Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Three top dangerous affairs in literature

Zhanna Slor was born in Ukraine and moved to the Midwest in the early 1990s. Her debut novel, At the End of the World, Turn Left, was called "elegant and authentic" by NPR and named by Booklist as one of the "Top Ten Crime Debuts" of 2021. Her second novel, Breakfall, a domestic thriller surrounding a mysterious death at a close-knit Jiu Jitsu gym, came out last month.

At CrimeReads Slor tagged three novels "that explore the why’s and how’s of infidelity," including:
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum

“Moments of great import are often tinged with darkness because perversely we yearn to be let down,” starts Courtney Maum’s first novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You. Nearly ten years after its release, it is still one of my favorite first lines in modern literature. It’s so perfectly succinct and so perfectly true, something that felt true to me even in 2014, during my early twenties, when I hardly knew anything about anything—and that is the ultimate magic of good writing. Showing you that there are ideas you can understand in a subconscious way before you understand them in a conscious way.

Maum’s book, which is set in London and Paris, follows Richard, an artist in his mid-thirties, whose wife has found about his affair just as his career begins to take off. While Richard tries to win back her affection, and find where his went in the first place, his journey brings up many questions (and, sometimes, answers) about life and love. It’s a slightly different approach to your run-of-the-mill literary dalliance, which is one of many reasons it resonated so much with readers at the time of its release in 2014. It is not just a story about infidelity, and its consequences; it’s an exploration into why people make the choices they make, what it means to love someone, and how to maintain that love for as long as possible.

“Infidelity has always fascinated me as a subject matter, especially in America, where many people view it as the ultimate trespass, whereas so many other things (alcoholism, passive aggressiveness, gambling issues, work-aholism), are forgiven on the daily,” Maum says, about her inspiration for her hit debut. “I wanted to look specifically at the act of forgiveness after infidelity as it unfolds in a home with a child in it. What would that forgiving process look like? What would that atmosphere feel like? It’s a complicated space.”

This is another aspect I enjoyed about Maum’s book when I first read it—allowing things to be complicated, and trying to disentangle the complexity instead of skipping over it, while not judging her own characters. In reality, people tend to rush to judgment when it comes to cheating and affairs. It’s easy to point fingers and blame. It’s a simple way to process mistakes. It’s almost desirable—it puts the finger-pointer on a pedestal in their own mind. “I would never do that, at least,” they say. “I must be a better person.”

Simplicity is boring, however, and it’s false, too. Everyone is capable of everything. I grew up in a house with Holocaust survivors, in Ukraine—I know this in my bones. It’s more interesting to explore what makes a character decide to make bad choices, even while knowing they are bad; or examining what long-ignored troubles in a relationship led them down such a road. Affairs don’t just happen in a bubble. Choices lead to more choices lead to more choices. You can’t undo them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change for the better. This is what makes an affair-centered plot so juicy in books. There is built-in tension, and in most cases, lives are going to be turned upside down, forcing characters to change, whether they want to or not.

Maum understood this very clearly in her debut, which is why it’s such a great book.
The Page 69 Test: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.

Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue