The Red Car is a modern picaresque fairy tale. Leah is our heroine, flawed, not completely honest with people, though less out of traditional picaresque roguishness and more out of a desire to avoid confrontation. And in true modern fashion, the person she most deceives is herself.
Ten years ago Leah worked in human resources as a personal assistant to Judy, a woman who mentored her and befriended her, encouraging her to go to grad school, telling her she would be a writer one day. Leah takes her advice, goes to grad school, marries Hans, and settles. Out of the blue, she learns Judy died in a car accident, in her precious red car that she loved so much. The same red car that Leah disliked, even feared. It gave her the heebie jeebies and Judy knew it and gave it to Leah anyway.
So she goes to California for the funeral and to sell the car. She is persuaded into a two week vacation by a former crush and flies first class, a sleeping beauty waking in a new place by not-quite-charming Diego. First, though, before she leaves her home, her husband reveals himself to be a Beast or maybe a goblin. Her trip to California takes her through a series of encounters from not-quite-charming Diego, the Mechanic, a homonymic lesbian living in her old apartment who is very charming, old friends from college, a wealthy prince-charming who would happily sweep her off her feet, and Yumiko, another pícara traveling the same highway.
Of course, no great fairy tale can be without magical elements so there is the car, the infamous red car. It is no Christine, but Leah is convinced it is sinister. More importantly, there is a fairy godmother, the spirit of Judy following Leah around dispensing advice and snark in equal measure. That is Judy’s real gift, being there, helping her figure out what she wants and what she needs. Because in modern fairy tales, the princess saves herself.
The Red Car is the best kind of fairy tale. It reinterprets the form, changing the narrative, and delivers something fresh and exciting. The story is fast-paced and delightful. I should really be irritated with the book because I opened it up, planning to read a few pages before going to bed because I always like waking up to a good book that I have already started. Instead, I stayed up reading to the end. I read from the beginning to the end, staying up to the wee hours.
I liked Leah because she was in transition, she was changing and not just because of godmotherly intervention. She had finished a novel without godmother Judy, so she was not failing to go after her dreams, but she was stuck. She needed to get unstuck and a journey to the past can either get you unstuck or drop you deeper in the mud. It is still her agency that makes the difference. The story is fun, it is humorous and light-hearted. I loved it.