Steve Hogan and his wife Nancy are traveling by car from their Long Island home to pick up their kids from a summer camp in Maine. The annual trip brings heavy traffic over the weekend, when city dwellers escape to the country. Red Lights portrays the mundane that has turned dangerous, the worst-case scenario brought to reality.
Steve has not admitted his alcoholism to himself or to anyone else. Like many of Simenon’s characters, Steve is dancing on the rim of the abyss, one misstep away from disaster. Simenon gives Steve that little push, not even a shove, closer to a nudge, but it is just enough.
Steve is in denial about his drinking and about his marriage. Steve and Nancy’s marriage is in trouble. They seldom even speak to each other, living their lives in separate orbits.
During the long car trip, Steve and Nancy are left no choice but to interact. Steve is a weak man, and the strain proves too much. He fortified himself with a stiff drink on the way home before leaving for the trip, and he had another drink at dinner, and he needs a third drink instead of just wanting it. A few hours into the trip, city traffic behind them, Steve makes his first tavern stop. Nancy waits in the car.
Another few hours of driving and Steve gets the urge to stop again for another drink. His drinking becomes the topic of conversation between them. If he stops again, Nancy says, she will go on without him. He will have to find his own way to Maine. Steve, asserting his manhood, is in the mood to show Nancy who is boss. He stops at another tavern, and he takes the keys with him.
While sitting at the bar, Steve begins to contemplate the meaning of manhood. What makes a real man? Steadily advancing into a stupor, Steve strikes up a conversation with the strange man who sits down by him at the bar. The radio in the bar plays in the background, and a story about an escaped convict from Sing Sing Prison has the barflies talking. As time passes, Steve begins to imagine that the man sitting next to...
(The entire section is 835 words.)