During the past year, I have attended a great many virtual author talks. One of the questions that inevitably comes up is, “Are you planning to write anything set during the pandemic?” Almost everybody says “No, absolutely not” (one author suggested that he might, though he’d probably wait a few years). However, at this point, I actually wouldn’t mind reading about people who have, like me, largely been shut-ins for the past year; when I started Maggie Finds Her Muse and the title character blithely hopped on a plane to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Paris, I realized that I was deeply envious of a fictional character. Right now, the best I can hope for is a post-vaccination jaunt to San Francisco, which has been simultaneously 20 minutes and a million miles away from my suburban home since March 2020.
The current state of things may have colored my reaction to this novel, and to its protagonist’s dilemmas. Maggie is a best-selling author who is trying to sell her series to TV so she can buy a beach house. There’s just one catch: she needs to finish writing the final part of her trilogy about two lovers in a war-torn country before any network will pony up the big bucks (they learned their lesson after “Game of Thrones”), and she’s suffering from a massive case of writer’s block, which has caused her to miss a couple of deadlines.
Conveniently, her agent has access to a gorgeous apartment in Paris, complete with a charming live-in housekeeper, and he’s convinced that the words will tumble right onto the page if Maggie experiences a change of scenery. Plus, Maggie’s grown daughter lives in Rennes, Brittany, a quick 90-minute trip from Paris by train.
It turns out that the housekeeper, Solange, has a handsome son who happens to be visiting, and Max sparks Maggie’s imagination; when he’s around, the dam bursts and Maggie finds herself able to write for hours. (In between stints at the laptop, she is able to do fun stuff like shop at Galeries Lafayette and drink wine at sidewalk cafés.) The problem is, Max is a busy executive, and Maggie is terrified that if he leaves, she won’t be able to finish her novel. Further complicating matters: Maggie’s ex-husband, Alan, is visiting their daughter, and he’s interested in rekindling their old flame.
I really enjoyed the fact that this is a novel about a woman in her late 40s who gets to have fun and find love—as I’ve mentioned in the past, such books are surprisingly rare. Sometimes I felt Maggie was a little bit too flighty and silly for a woman of her years; there’s a Big Misunderstanding with one of the male characters which is so ridiculous that Dee Ernst gets a little bit meta with it (in the novels Maggie writes, we learn, no such plot contrivance would ever occur). Still, Maggie Finds Her Muse should appeal to anyone looking for a light, romantic read about a 40+ heroine; just don’t be surprised if you find yourself overcome with yearning for a trip to France.
Maggie Finds Her Muse will be published on April 20. Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy via NetGalley.