Sunday, June 24, 2018
Books

Review: Courtney Maum's novel an exercise in wit and 'Fun'

Richard Haddon, the morose British artist at the center of Courtney Maum's amusing yet still heartfelt new novel, used to be devoted to the avant-garde. He made mixed-media collages using saw blades and driftwood and melted ramen noodle packets. He wrapped toy soldiers in Bubble Wrap to make a statement. He was confident and energetic and young. He even used to listen to Peaches.

Now, though, things have changed. Richard's art has finally found a market, but he's deeply unhappy about the conventional turn it has taken. ("If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd be building my artistic reputation on a series of realistic oil paintings of rooms viewed through a keyhole. . . .")

He can't stop moping because his American mistress has dumped him to marry a cutlery designer (really). Richard is married to Anne-Laure, a smart, gorgeous attorney. They have a young daughter, Camille, and they live in Paris. Anne-Laure's parents are wealthy. He should be happy. Instead, he broods and allows a special painting he did for his wife back when they were madly in love to be sold. Then he grows desperate, believing the only way to repair his disastrous error is to get the painting back.

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is a midlife crisis novel, but Maum — a humor columnist as well as a fiction and screenwriter — has enough inventiveness and wit to make Richard's dilemma feel fresh. Her compassion for Richard is evident. He knows he has made a mess of his life even as he sabotages himself, and she invests readers in his fate while being perfectly clear he's responsible for his own bad behavior. Trying to deserve our blessings and failing is just so painfully human.

The novel also has plenty of funny observations on the peculiarities of living in the City of Light and the differences in living there rather than the United States or United Kingdom. (Maum is married to a French director and spends part of her time in Paris.)

"I certainly can't blame the French education system for the problems in my marriage," Richard admits. "In fact, I'd say that the French make it almost too easy to have a life when you're a parent. State-subsidized spaces in the neighborhood nursery are every citizen's right, and the public school system is gratis. The cafeteria serves a cheese course. . . . If Anne and I already have rows over our vacation and recreation fund on her fancy lawyer salary and my less fancy artist one with a daughter in a free school that serves her duck casserole and Reblochon before naptime, I can only imagine what would happen if we had to dole out fifty grand a year so that Cam could get felt up on a pool table littered with plastic Solo Cups by some imbecile named Chuck."

As Richard scrambles to woo back his wife, he's suddenly moved to create the sort of meaningful art he made in his youth. (The looming American invasion of Iraq provides the inspiration.) Maum sets Richard's anxious artistic rebirth against questions on love, fidelity and family — Richard also finds hope in observing his parents, though he has always viewed them as staid. With this warm, reflective novel, Maum seems to be nodding sagely at what we know to be true: Life is a mess, it's always a mess, and the struggle to be a better person goes on forever.

Comments
Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Review: Look inside the tent of a Gibsonton-based sideshow in Tessa Fontaine’s memoir ‘The Electric Woman’

Grief can unhinge us, disconnect us from our daily lives, make us do things we’ve never done. Grief made Tessa Fontaine run away and join the circus.To be more exact, the sideshow: World of Wonders, the last traditional traveling sideshow in the coun...
Published: 06/21/18
5 fiction writers who've turned their attention to Donald Trump

5 fiction writers who've turned their attention to Donald Trump

He might not have intended it, but Donald Trump has been good for book publishing.
Published: 06/15/18
What’s Neal Thompson, author of ‘Kickflip Boys,’ reading?

What’s Neal Thompson, author of ‘Kickflip Boys,’ reading?

Neal ThompsonFor Father’s Day, we checked in with Neal Thompson from his Seattle office. In his new book, Kickflip Boys, Thompson weaves together a story on raising his two independent, passionate sons while giving us an honest look at the underbelly...
Published: 06/15/18
What is Jen Waite, author of the memoir

What is Jen Waite, author of the memoir "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing," reading?

Jen Waite It is June. Romance and weddings are in the air, and with that comes the paperback release of A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite, 33. The book, based on Waite’s heartbreaking wedding story, fi...
Updated one month ago
Review: Jake Tapper’s ‘Hellfire Club’ a fictional thriller sharpened with real 1950s politics

Review: Jake Tapper’s ‘Hellfire Club’ a fictional thriller sharpened with real 1950s politics

Washington, D.C., is a city in crisis, the operations of the federal government all but paralyzed by the conspiracy theories of a powerful politician who behaves as if the bounds of protocol and decency don’t apply to him. As he distracts the nation,...
Updated one month ago
What’s Helen Rappaport reading?

What’s Helen Rappaport reading?

Helen RappaportWhile delving into archives and researching her new book about the murder of the Russian imperial family 100 years ago, The Race to Save the Romanovs, Rappaport celebrated the digital age. "I am able to go back so far in time and look ...
Updated one month ago
Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Florida’ explores a state beyond the boundaries

Review: Lauren Groff’s ‘Florida’ explores a state beyond the boundaries

In "Flower Hunters," one of the stories in Lauren Groff’s stunning new book Florida, a character gets a reader’s crush on 18th century explorer William Bartram, an early chronicler of the state’s flora and fauna: "She’s most d...
Updated one month ago