Courtney Maum

I took her other hand. “I knew it the fucking minute I saw you in that stupid bar with your cousin. You are . . . a morethan person, Anne. Goddammit. You are more than a best friend and a wife, you’re more than beautiful, and if I hurt you it’s maybe because I’ve always known and been ashamed of the fact that I am less than you, and always have been.

Her chin trembled. In my hands, her skin was cold. “I will do whatever it takes to prove to you that it will never happen again.”

She bit her lip hard as a tear fell down her cheek. For the first time since I’d reached for her, she squeezed my hand back. “But what do you do about the fact that it happened? What do you do about that?”

I started to cry. “What do I do?” I said, dropping her hands. “What do I do? I don’t know what to do. I did it. I can’t make you love me back.”

“But I do love you,” she cried. “But I can’t get past it! I can’t! I’m so angry and I’m so sad and I’m embarrassed and ashamed and I’m furious at you. I hate you, and at the same time I just want to go back. And I don’t know what to do either,” she said. “I just don’t.”

I looked up at the sky and the buildings and the gargoyles and the sculptures. I looked out at the pyramid and the stupid, spinning carousel in the park beyond. And beyond that, beauty. More beauty everywhere. Lights and boulevards and thoroughfares and people going places and people coming back. And it was sitting there in a place that had been a safe place for us, a place that had always been calming and right, that I realized that if I really loved her, I had to let the decision to stay with me be hers.

2 thoughts on “Courtney Maum

  1. shinichi Post author

    The Cheat

    by Haley Tanner

    The protagonist of Courtney Maum’s debut novel, “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” is really, truly hard to like. Richard Haddon is a British artist living in Paris, and when we meet him we learn quickly that he has just compromised his artistic principles to sell palatable, décor-friendly paintings, and that he has recently cheated on his beautiful French wife, Anne-Laure, with whom he has a relatively happy marriage and a young daughter. Richard’s affair — not a one-off drunken mistake, but rather a serious monthslong “I wish I could leave my wife for you” kind of thing — ended only because she left him.

    At the outset of the book, Anne is not aware of the extent of the affair, only that her husband has not been himself for a while. She suspects something is up only after Richard’s mistress has left him — in fact, it is his heartsickness that tips her off. How can we side with the repentant cheating husband while he’s still pining for his lost mistress?

    To be clear, Richard is not in any way an antihero. He’s not evil; he’s not terrible. He is a regular guy who has made the sort of despicable errors that regular guys make all the time. Richard is struggling; at times he doesn’t even really like himself. He admits Anne isn’t guilty of any wrongdoing in their marriage — things just became stale, in a normal, familiar, undramatic way. He reflects, “Somewhere down the line, it got hard to just be kind, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know when, and when I see all of the reasons to be back in love with her again, I want more than anything to be swept up in the tide of before.”

    “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” is less a study of a marriage dissolving, or even of a man dissolving, than a lament for what is damaged possibly beyond repair. Neither Richard nor Anne wants their marriage to end, but neither can see a way back in. Anne is willing to forgive a minor transgression — but when she finds a cache of love ­letters and learns the affair was more extensive than she had initially assumed, she throws Richard out, and he must struggle to persuade her to give him a second chance.

    Having crassly sold a painting Anne holds dear, he then goes to great lengths to retrieve it. He plans elaborate evenings, makes grand gestures, is nearly arrested, attempts an ambitious art ­installation and revives his career. Living alone and missing his family, ­Richard flounders, and so do we. So much is ­happening, but it can be difficult to be invested when we find ourselves as unsure of Richard’s worth as he is, and perhaps a bit unsure if we care terribly whether Anne will have him back. Richard is not exactly repentant enough, or not in the right ways. He’s self-absorbed, self-­pitying and not a little whiny.

    Still, Richard and Anne were once in love, and something beautiful has been lost. Maum is at her best when exploring the hard place Richard’s affair has brought them to, how necessary and impossible it is to forgive and forget. Here is the paradox of the accumulation of years in a marriage, how hard it is to keep holding on to what is good while letting go of what is bad. Anne and Richard both mourn what they had, they both want it back, and yet the path is not clear. Anne cries: “But I can’t get past it! I can’t! I’m so angry and I’m so sad and I’m embarrassed and ashamed and I’m furious at you. I hate you, and at the same time I just want to go back.” The dialogue can feel stale, but still, these moments are heartbreaking. When Richard’s 5-year-old daughter visits him for the weekend, and Richard has to wake her from a nap to send her home to her mother, she begs with tears in her eyes to stay. Unlikable as Richard may be, we certainly hope in that moment that Anne will take him back and reunite their family.

    This novel is not all work and no play. Maum’s descriptions of the Paris art world are entertaining, and there is sex — real, full-on, who-put-what-where sex. Maum is funny: the kind of funny that is mean and dirty, with some good bad words thrown in. And she has a satiric eye for artsy pretension: When Richard’s escapades bring him into the living room of the men who bought that painting Anne liked so much, they call themselves “pagan Continuists” and explain, “Like our snake god, we, too, try to be the belt around the world that keeps it from bursting apart.” Every time they purchase artwork, they must welcome the artist into their home, in order to complete the circle. “Sometimes it’s not possible, obviously,” they admit. “Sometimes, the artist is dead.”

    Fortunately, Richard’s marriage is not dead, just seriously wounded. It’s all the more enticing for that, as Maum asks whether a broken marriage can be put together again, whether mistakes can be forgiven, whether redemption is finally possible for Richard, even if we never ­really cared for the guy in the first place.


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