I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You
Published June 10, 2014
336 pages (hardcover)
I like to think of myself as a guys’ girl. I curse like a sailor. I am a champion flip-cup player. I had non-romantic dude roommates in college and law school. I love going to basketball games. I find joy in binge-watching The League for hours on end. I love going on dirty, sweaty hikes and bike rides.
Then again, I also love shoes and manicures and make up. I get highly emotional and prone to mood swings at predictable times each month. I read fashion and gossip magazines religiously. I DVR Hollywood Exes (a highly underrated gem of reality television), Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Ellen.
Now, please don’t go giving me some holier-than-thou speech about equality of the sexes and the fact that “guy things” and “girl things” are false constructs. I acknowledge that I am stereotyping (and, trust me, I know plenty of guys who watch RHOA). But, let’s face it: there are many ways (some learned, some innate) in which guys and girls are different. We act differently. We talk differently. We certainly think differently.
These differences are evident in real-life, and, on occasion, they positively glare from the pages of books. Sometimes, when a man writes a book from a female perspective or a woman writes a book from a male perspective, it’s just a mess. It comes off as inauthentic, sloppy, unbelievable, or just plain weird.
I’m certainly not suggesting a male can’t effectively write a female voice or vice versa. It has been done many times. A few shining examples:
- Chris Cleave’s Little Bee in Little Bee;
- Donna Tartt’s Richard Papen in The Secret History; and
- John Green’s Hazel Grace Lancaster in The Fault in Our Stars.
And, of course, there’s author Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, who explains his talent for writing convincing female characters as follows:
“How do you write women so well?”
“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
So, I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying men and women are different, and, because of that, it’s more difficult to pull off writing the opposite sex accurately and convincingly than it is to write a character of the same sex.
Courtney Maum’s debut novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, illustrates this point well. The book is described on the jacket as a “reverse love story” that “attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?” Richard Haddon is Maum’s first-person narrator. He’s a British artist who lives in Paris with his French wife, Anne-Laure, and their adorable daughter, Camille. And he’s a scumbag. Haddon cheated on his wife (not a one-off cheat, but an extended, seven-month affair) with an American journalist who recently left him to marry another man. Now, he’s trying to get his life back in order and get his wife to forgive him.
On her bio page, it says that Maum is a “creative brand strategist, corporate namer, and humor columnist.” What she is decidedly not is a guy. And her writing makes that painfully obvious. Here is Richard Haddon describing his wife, whom he is getting ready to take out to discuss their separation and next steps:
She was an expert dresser. Like a musician, she had different registers: power outfit, seduction, family gatherings, leisure. When I opened the door, I caught my breath. She’d gone with “Look what you risk losing, you fucking wanker”: navy Dries Van Noten cigarette kimono pants with a cream-and-rust-colored dragon slinking up the side, a pale pink double-paneled tank top made out of cashmere and silk with a vertiginous V-neck; black steel-toe and calf-hair booties that she’d gifted herself with after winning her first case. Over this, a thick felt coat the color of wet moss. Her eyes were lined with kohl, her hair was tousled, up.
I’m sorry, no. No dude would describe a shirt as a “pale pink double-paneled tank top” and then go on to describe its contrasting fabrics. No dude would string together the words “Dries Van Noten cigarette kimono pants” (in fact, no dude I know would be able to conjure up an accurate image of said pants if I were to read that description to him). No dude would use the word “bootie.” And, for the record, a dude would just say that she was wearing “a green coat,” comparisons to plants and their relative dampness be damned.
One instance of this I could overlook. But it happens multiple times. There’s the bit where he sees Anne-Laure across the room wearing “round-toe stilettos in electric blue with an embellished heel of gold and silver chains.” And the time when she put her “hair up into a chignon that, owing to her Frenchness, wasn’t strict, but tousled.” How many dudes do you know who could distinguish a chignon (tousled or otherwise) from any other up-do?
Look, I like clothes (a lot), so the descriptions themselves didn’t bother me. But it’s hard to get into a book when the first-person narrator’s voice feels so inauthentic and contrived.
Maum is a comedic writer, and there are brief moments in the book that are really funny. She is able to describe things in a unique way that create hilarious and vivid mental images, like this one: “No one in my life has ever come on to me like Lisa Bishop. She walked over and sat down on me, just lowered herself on my lap like a naughty koala.” When it comes to people being compared to ill-behaved marsupials, you have found a fan in me.
That said, she should probably just stick to funny. She can do that. What she is not so skilled at is writing emotional dialogue. And, unfortunately, when your book is about a dude who cheats on his wife and is trying to get back in her good graces, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid it. Here is a comedic writer attempting to write emotional dialogue:
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.”
And there you have it: the tritest, most cliché conversation between a cheating man and his wife that you can possibly imagine. Ugh. Give me back the naughty koalas, please.
The book has been well-received by many (see below). So, maybe I’m just predisposed NOT to like a book that is about a strong, smart female lawyer who turns into a messy, helpless, emotional pile of poo after her loser husband cheats on her, and then realizes she can’t live without him, even though he’s treated her like shit. Or maybe it just wasn’t very good.
- An Amazon Best Book of the Month for June 2014
- An Indie Next List pick for June 2014
- A LibraryReads selection for June 2014
- One of Glamour’s “Ten Best Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List Right This Second”
Who should read it: If you have recently cheated on your spouse and are looking for some false hope that everything will turn out just fine, then this is your book. Otherwise, feel free to scratch this one off your TBR list.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Euphoria by Lily King (an Amazon Best Book of the Month and an Indie Next List pick for June 2014)
- A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (the new novel by the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain; a #1 LibraryReads List selection for October 2014)
- The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman (an Indie Next Pick for June 2014 and a LibraryReads selection for June 2014)