Meanwhile, in California: The Marriage Artist

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1. Laguna Beach Books is so close to its namesake that you can smell it. It smells like salt and water. And money. 2. International photographer Roy Zipstein and his beautiful family.

I’m always a little shocked when a literary event takes place in Southern California. To me, a twenty-six-year native of Seattle’s perpetual gray gloom, the shut-in pursuits of writing and reading always strike as the province of drearier climates very unlike Laguna Beach and its warm, unconditional sun. Why sit alone at your computer when you could be out with your friends drinking mojitos by a beach bonfire? Why haunt a bookstore when you could be out catching some choice waves, dude?

But despite all these warm-weather temptations, people do come out for literature in So Cal. Yesterday, they came out big for Andrew Winer, whose novel The Marriage Artist has been called “an amazing Tower of Babel, a tower of history, love, marriage and art, Europe and America.”

1. Manager Lisa Childers introduces the marriage artist. 2. The very Colin Firth-looking Andrew Winer splits hairs with his audience about existential versus romantic suicides.

Winer began by reading a letter from a disgruntled reader. “Let’s be empirical, Winer. Examine the facts…. You used me for your little research project…. Calling me the “Atheist of Love”? Really, Winer.” This was followed by a section of The Marriage Artist featuring the character in question. Then came another letter, from a former lover: “…don’t give me some spiel about me being a ‘conglomeration’ of past lovers. You know very well which girlfriend I’m based on. And killing me off on page one, Andrew? What does this say? What does this say?”

Outside the bookstore, beachy sidewalk-strolling people, many of them barefoot, sharply contrasted what was going on inside Laguna Beach Books. As Winer read the angry letters, one after another, the room began to bristle with a palpable sense of the artistic betrayal an author accepts in order to write a novel. For if he writes life as it really is, someone’s going to get hurt. The necessity of using what he knows about people without using those people pushes the novelist into a delicate dance with reality that doesn’t exactly leave him blameless.

After fielding a few questions about history, love, marriage and art, Europe and America, the author graciously signed books until the last of his audience had filed back out into the warm November evening, the Orange County sun still glinting off of everything.

–Joshua Hardina lives and teaches in Southern California and is currently at work on a novel titled Who Makes You Mine.

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