Share This Page

Review: 'I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You' an exercise in wit

| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 2:21 p.m.

Richard Haddon, the morose British artist at the center of Courtney Maum's amusing and 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. Hell, 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 himself is married to Anne-Laure, a smart, gorgeous attorney. They have a young daughter, Camille, and they live in Paris. Her 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's 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 between living there and in the U.S. or U.K. (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 about love, fidelity and family (Richard also finds hope in observing his parents, though he's always viewed them as staid before).

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.

Connie Ogle is a staff writer for the Miami Herald.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.