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Exploring a World Where Technology Trumps Instinct

Courtney Maum’s new novel launched May 30

 

By Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo

When asked how she feels now that her new novel, “Touch,” is completed, Courtney Maum says with some hesitation, “I feel good.”

Courtney Maum will travel to 21 towns and cities across the U.S. during her book tour. Photo by Colin Lane.

Launching a book in early summer is usually optimal, as it is the high season for reading. Putnam, Maum’s new publisher, is hoping to get “Touch” on those coveted “Essential Summer Reading” lists that can propel a novel into the stratosphere. In fact, the book has already won glowing praise from O, The Oprah Magazine, Interview, InStyle, Marie Claire and others. But Maum is a bit nervous that the novel’s focus—the dehumanization of a technology-driven world—may be a hard sell in these times when people are especially glued to their phone’s news feeds.

The Norfolk-based writer has a few friends in the literary world whose book sales underperformed expectations in post-election 2016 because of events in the news cycle. “People weren’t reading fiction this year. There was just too much to keep up with in current events,” says Maum.

Three years in the works, “Touch” tells the tale of Sloane Jacobsen, a famous trend forecaster, who moves to New York City for a six-month-long job assignment with a giant tech company. The CEO hired Jacobsen to guide his creative teams through the months leading up to a three-day summit about consumer trends. The summit’s theme, “What will we make when we stop making kids?” appeals to Jacobsen at first, but the protagonist soon finds herself majorly conflicted on the topic, both at work and in her personal life.

Maum’s writing is pensively observant, and shines a spotlight on many alarming current trends that the masses have become numb to. One excerpt has the protagonist asking, “how does it feel to live in a world where no one ever needs to ask anyone else for directions anymore, or to be asked to take a photo of a honeymooning couple with their camera?” And answering, “If you think that selfie sticks are the way to happiness, you’re dead wrong. Human touch is endangered. You think the future belongs to the type of people who are going to synch their fridges with their smartphones, but people are ready—not tomorrow, but now—to be vulnerable and undirected and intimate again.”

The cover of “Touch” was designed by Rodrigo Corral.

But that kind of grim scrutiny is balanced by a writing style that also leaves the reader chuckling. Maum’s exploration of the mass appeal of succulents (which the author admits was originally three pages long) offers the following analysis, for example: “Americans didn’t know why they’d become so obsessed with cacti—they just accepted the fact that drought-resistant plants were the new must-haves for office and home design in the mindless way they’d once accepted ferns, but really, what was going on was a socially sanctioned apathy toward the planet’s overheating. It was apocalyptic acclimation, by way of indoor plants.”

“Touch” took form from the potential Maum saw for “human instinct to go extinct,” and writing about it certainly was cathartic. Years ago, Maum became fixated on the growing incapability of people to rely on intuition for solving even the most basic problems. “Instinct is really precious to me,” says the author. “My friends wouldn’t listen to me talk about it anymore, so I had to write a book.”

Ironically, Maum, who admits to not liking her phone, had to become more plugged-in to write the novel. “It was a little hard living in Norfolk to summon that tech-driven world.” She took a few trips to New York, and signed up for a bunch of apps, so she could write more authentically on the subject.

As in her first novel, “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” Maum’s second novel introduces the reader to wildly vivid and believable characters that are hard to take a break from. This is not a novel that rests on your night stand for more than a week.

Maum embarks on a whirlwind two-week book tour, beginning in Washington, D.C. on May 30 and ending in Chattanooga, Tenn. on June 9. She will visit 13 cities—Houston, Wichita, Saint Paul, Corte Madera, Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Ann Arbor, New York, Brooklyn and Madison, Conn., before landing back home in mid-June.

Maum will join former W Magazine editor Jane Larkworthy at the Norfolk Library on June 18 at 2 p.m. to discuss the art of trend spotting and how various trends affect our lifestyles. Maum will do a short reading from “Touch” at the event, and a book signing will follow. The novelist has a few more regional events between July 6 and September 17, including The Mount’s Literary Roundtable in Lenox, Mass. on July 6 and Volume Reading Series in Hudson on July 8. Visit www.courtneymaum.com for more information.

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