Infidelity with a Light Touch? Novelist Makes It Work

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Learn from this writer who balances light and dark in tale of love and woe.

Posted May 06, 2020

Many more-or-less-happily-married couples have let themselves, if only mentally, tip-toe into the trap-laden world of open marriage. Author Matthew Norman makes use of this common and titillating fantasy in his latest novel, Last Couple Standing.

Despite what can often be a gut-wrenching reality, Norman has given us a light-reading version that focuses a lot on how his characters react to the hotness of others. Some of his characters enjoy the openness, while others find they simply can’t let themselves go for it. These are real quandaries handled with a humorous touch–the sort of novel that should be particularly seductive to a wide audience struggling with intimacy (too much or not enough) during a period of lockdown.

I agree with Mitch, the book’s main male protagonist, that it would be great if we could, once we’ve chosen a life mate, just take a pill that has no other side effects than to keep your libido from wandering. I wondered how the author felt.

Q & A with Matthew Norman about Last Couple Standing:

Q: My first question will have to be whether or not you believe the pill idea would really be a good thing. Plenty of people would not want to lose their so-called free will by letting a pill do the hard work for them.

A: It sounds like a great premise for a dystopian novel. Like there’d be some terrible unintended consequence and we’d all become murderers. When it crosses Mitch’s mind in the book, though, I think it speaks to a thought that we’ve all had at some point. “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just block out all of the things that mess up my life?” Free will is great and all, but it can be destructive, too.

Q: It can be tricky to make light humorous reading out of infidelity. Was that a challenging task for you, and did you go through some drafts to get the tone you wanted? IS that the tone you sought?

A: That was EXACTLY the tone I sought, and it’s the tone I’ve sought for my entire career. For me, humor is the ultimate Trojan horse in fiction. If your reader is laughing—if your books feel airy, fun, and intellectually accessible—you can get away with writing about all sorts of dark, dreadfully serious issues. Frankly, it would’ve been more challenging to have made this book not light and humorous.

Q: Did your wife or female friends read drafts of your work-in-progress? If so, was that enlightening in any way as you tried to switch points-of-view back and forth from male to female?

A: The most intimate scenes in Last Couple Standing are told from a female perspective, which is new for me. My previous novels had first-person male narrators. My agent and editor are both women, and I have a couple of trusted early readers who are female. Each of them, in her own way, helped shape this book. But my wife is far and away the most influential woman in my writing life. Listening to her talk about the world and watching her navigate through it—particularly since the 2016 election—has been so informative. She didn’t read Last Couple Standing until it was mostly done, but she was heavily involved from beginning to end. It’d be a very different book without her.

Q: You do know, I’m sure, that physical hotness is only one of the many attractions of a new partner, right? Do you feel your audience is a particular age group, say men and women in their late 30s to late 40s who are married or considering marrying one of these days?

A: You’re right. What we do and don’t want in a partner is very complicated. But, for this book, I really wanted to focus on physical attraction and, more specifically, on what a trap it can be. Our culture has idealized hotness to the point that it somehow feels like an essential ingredient for happiness. Well, it isn’t. This book is about a group of people figuring that out the hard way.

Q: You’ve been writing novels for several years now. What has changed in your creative writing process during that time?

A: I’ve gotten more organized. I always had plot points in my head when I was younger—I’d maybe jot them on notecards and try to write toward them. But, most days, when I sat down to work on my first two books, I’d be like, “So, where to today?” I outline now, so I have a better sense of where I’m going, and I have a daily word-count goal of 1,500. Look at me. I’m such a professional.

Q: You definitely are, Matthew! After the first couple of books, I suppose, we continue to write the kind of books we’ve found we’re good at, and of course, what we hope will sell in a tight, and now locked-down, marketplace. Is your next novel, which you mentioned elsewhere is already complete, going to be similar in some ways to this one?

A: I have a completed draft of my next novel, but there’s still a ton of work to do. I think it’ll sit nicely on the shelf next to my previous books. It has a similar aesthetic as the others—more of those Trojan horses that I talked about earlier. But there are new things, like different themes and a bigger cast of characters. Also, I’m writing more about friendship this time than about romantic love. It’s been fun. I’m tapping into a whole different set of emotions.

Q: Is the day-to-day life of a writer with a family at least a facsimile of what you expected?

A: It is now…finally! I wrote my first two books, and most of Last Couple Standing, at night and on weekends when I was exhausted, because I had two very young kids and a demanding job in advertising. My daughters are 10 and 8 now, though, so they require less second-to-second attention, and I left Corporate America about a year and a half ago to commit to full-time writing. So, this is my job now. I pace around the house, I water plants, I talk to dogs, and I write books. In other words, I’m over here living the dream.

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