Imagining life in the steamy lane

BY KATIE HANSON | APRIL 23, 2009 7:29 AM

Artists may go to great lengths to complete their works.

Writer A.J. Jacobs took the Bible literally for a year. Magician David Blaine entombed himself in cases both above and below ground for at least a week. Laura Rider decided to write a romance novel using her husband and another woman — though in all fairness, Rider is nothing more than a fictional character.

Jane Hamilton’s new book, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, humorously deals with this tricky concept and its effects on the participants. She will read at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today.

Writing a comedy is a departure for Hamilton, who typically pens gut-wrenching tragedies about women in unhealthy situations, both physical and emotional. Indeed, Hamilton said, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece was born from a somewhat disconcerting experience.

“I was teaching a writer’s workshop on a cruise ship, and I’ve also taught in colleges and had very serious, thoughtful students who understand that in order to write well you have to read,” she said.

“The students on the cruise ship were interesting because they only wanted to be published. And they got me thinking about what kind of people just want to be published and what they would be like.”

In the novel, Rider runs a successful business and is happily married to Charlie. But after 12 years of married life, Laura has grown tired of Charlie’s almost unbelievable enthusiasm and endurance in the bedroom, and she puts an end to their sex life.

So far, Hamilton said, this event has resonated with older readers.

“I’ve actually heard from women who really don’t want to sleep with their husbands anymore,” she said, noting that real-life couples can still maintain a happy relationship without doing the deed. “Every marriage is a mystery, and people make it work in all kinds of ways.”

With her energy restored, Laura concentrates on her dream to write a romance novel, but she has trouble starting. When Charlie clicks with Jenna Faroli, a Milwaukee Public Radio show host and Laura’s idol, Laura sees fodder for her book and decides to turn Charlie and Jenna’s ensuing correspondence into flirtatious exchanges. Soon, Laura’s main characters are embroiled in lust, with a steamier relationship than Laura anticipated. Although her experiment was never destined to end well, most of the ultimate casualties are feelings.

“Some people are surprised that I would write a comedy, but it amused me from beginning to end,” Hamilton said. “It was a joy to write.”

The author said she wrote the book differently from the way she had written past works.

“This book has a plot, and I don’t know how to do plot,” she said. “Books come to me through characters, and then the plot comes to me. But with this, it wrote itself. It all fell into place much more quickly.”

Although Laura Rider’s Masterpiece does not include the tangible product of Laura’s undertaking, Hamilton said, that doesn’t mean her protagonist fails her task.

“I think Laura writes a very capable romance,” Hamilton said. “In fact, I was talking to someone the other day, and they suggested that the next book I write should be her book.”

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