It all started with a note taped on the outside of a French art gallery. The note read (in French), "Mr. Architect, you were wearing an elegant hat and you wanted to buy the blue bear. Please contact me." Courtney Maum was living in Paris at the time and experiencing years of writer's block, but that one note sparked the idea for her new extremely buzz-y novel, "I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You."
The protagonist is a British artist named Richard who paints rooms as they appear through a keyhole, but he is more obsessed with pining over his ex-mistress than his art - or his wife. He starts regretting his affair about the same time his wife is done with him. "In my family history, everyone cheated on everyone else and got divorced. I found myself wondering, 'Did anyone try to work it out?'" Maum tells us.
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Because the book addresses infidelity, early reviewers and readers are dissecting it, trying to pull marital lessons from these fictional characters. But that doesn't intimidate Maum. "I'm pretty flattered by that," she says. "I remember thinking that people who are married or think about marriage a lot would like this book. ... It's a bumpy road. Marriage is freaking awkward. You're not psyched after eight years to get into bed with the same person."
Richard has many other flaws - besides the whole having a mistress part - but as a reader, you can't help but root for him. Finding the balance of creating a character who was funny, dark, flawed and likable all at the same time wasn't easy for Maum. "When I wrote the first version back in 2002, I got a lot of rejection letters," she says. "All the editors thought Richard was too unlikable. At first I just thought they just weren't risk takers, but when I read the manuscript again 10 years later, I realized they were right." Maum says she wrote as if she was sitting there with him and his wife in the kitchen with the baby upstairs. "I wrote with my heart," she says.
Maum grew up in a conservative city in Connecticut, lived in France for five years and now splits her time between Paris, New York City and the Berkshires. Immersing herself in cultures all with vastly different views on marriage seems to have greatly influenced Maum, and her novel is stronger because of it. This book may not be the feel-good read of the summer, but it will stick with you.
If you go:
New York City
June 12, 7 p.m.
37 Main St., Brooklyn, 718-666-3049
July 14, 8 p.m.
Franklin Bar & Beer Garden
618 St. Johns Place, 718-975-0196
July 16, 12:30 p.m.
Bryant Park Reading Room
42nd St. & 6th Ave.,
September 7, 4:15 p.m.
St. Francis College
182 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, 718-522-2300
June 17, 7 p.m.
279 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617-566-6660
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence