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Alternatives to Sexby Stephen Mccauley
Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of The Object of My Affection and True Enough delivers his most compelling and richly observed novel to date with this portrait of one man's search for the holy trinity of modern life — true love, good sex, and great real estate.
Stephen McCauley's new novel is a moving and hilarious chronicle of life in post-traumatic, morally ambiguous America where the desire to do good is constantly being tripped up by the need to feel good. Right now.
William Collins is a real estate agent working near Boston. Despite a boom market, his sales figures aren't what they should be, due mostly to the distractions of compulsive ironing and housecleaning binges and his penchant for nightly online cruising for hookups — less impersonal than old-fashioned anonymous sex because you exchanged fake names with the person.
There's also his struggle to collect the rent from Kumiko Rothberg, his passive-aggressive tenant, and his worries about his best friend, Edward, a flight attendant he's certainly not in love with.
William has known for some time that his habits are slipping out of control. But he figures that as long as I acknowledged my behavior was a problem, it wasn't one.
When he finally decides to do something about his life, he needs a role model of calm stability. Enter Charlotte O'Malley and Samuel Thompson, wealthy suburbanites looking for the perfect city apartment. Happy couple, William writes in his notes. Maybe I can learn something from them. But what he learns challenges his own assumptions about real estate, love, and desire. And what they learn from him might unravel a budding friendship, not to mention a very promisingsale.
Full of crackling dialogue delivered by a stellar ensemble of players, Alternatives to Sex is social satire at its very best: A smart, sophisticated, and astonishingly funny look at the way we live now.
"McCauley's latest blunt and funny novel lays bare the inner life and obsessive-compulsive behavior of William Collins, a gay 40-something Boston realtor who struggles to give up trolling the Internet for impersonal sexual liaisons. Taking stock of the year following 9/11, William attributes his promiscuity to 'posttraumatic self-indulgence' and unsuccessfully attempts to trade one addiction for another: cleaning house (not always his own). When affluent straight couple Charlotte O'Malley and Samuel Thompson arrive at his office, prowling for a new home, William hopes he can close the sale and wonders if he can look to their marriage as inspiration for a long-term relationship. While McCauley entertains with a motley group of supporting characters, the novel pivots on William's close friendship with Edward, a flight attendant. Hoping to preserve their relationship by keeping it romance-free, William tries to deny his feelings for the ever-patient Edward. McCauley (True Enough) delivers the promise of emotional progress for his flawed, charming protagonist in this clever take on the desire for love, sex and real estate. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Nearly everyone is buying, selling or looking at real estate in Stephen McCauley's unfailingly witty new novel, 'Alternatives to Sex.' At one point, the boss of a real-estate firm sums up the last few years of irrational landed exuberance by telling a broker who is listing a property, 'I think you've under overpriced it.' The under overpricer is William Collins, a tall, thin, forty-something... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) gay man living in metropolitan Boston, where he pours much of his spare time into sexual encounters arranged on the Internet. He frequently chides himself about the likely effect of this habit on his ability to sustain an 'LTR' (long-term relationship), but at other times he persuades himself that he's doing the world a favor: 'If everyone were having as much sexual activity as he'd like,' he muses, 'adhering to the rules of protection, and avoiding guilt and self-hatred, there'd be no such thing as road rage, and no one would ever have voted for George W. Bush.' William's friends include Edward, a short, almost perfectly formed flight attendant who is drifting away from him and into the orbit of Marty, the loudmouth female owner of a self-help Web site called ReleaseTheBeast.com. William's clients include Samuel and Charlotte, a married couple who have decided to mark their only child's departure from the nest by relocating from the suburbs to the city, and Sophia, a prospective buyer whose attacks of cold feet have quashed half-a-dozen sales, each time causing her to forfeit her deposit and William to lose his commission. McCauley's plotting does not tantalize. The reader will undoubtedly figure out what sparks the tension between Samuel and Charlotte before William does, and the ultimate object of William's affection (to paraphrase the title of McCauley's first novel, 'The Object of My Affection') will come as no surprise, either. But as a framework for the bons mots bandied about by William and company — mordant apergus that evoke the shades of La Rochefoucauld and Ambrose Bierce — the action serves just fine. McCauley also delivers a bonus. The beast-releasing Marty speaks in such amusingly bluff contrast to the general wit that one looks forward to her appearances in the way that a Dickens fan roots for the next entry of Mrs. Gamp or Mr. Micawber. 'Alternatives to Sex' is a bravura performance, chockablock with well-chosen words, sweeping psychological insights no truer than they should be, and characters who just might fulfill their desires for lodging and love, if only they knew what those were. Dennis Drabelle is a contributing editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"How Americans were affected by Sept. 11 provides this novel's leitmotif....McCauley uses his twin narratives, and a bevy of subplots and appealing tertiary characters, to explore this material with impressive dexterity and a refreshing lack of portent." Los Angeles Times
"McCauley has delivered a witty comedy that tries to answer questions about whether love lasts — and if not, whether the perfect downtown apartment can serve as a sufficient substitute." San Francisco Chronicle
"McCauley is one of the most companionable novelists....His characters are complex and charismatic, his dialogue is winning, and consistently he plumbs the intersection of love and desire — always with brio and good cheer." Boston Globe
"The seamlessly executed plot in Alternatives to Sex unfolds like a cruisy, afternoon-long walk through post-gentrification Boston, with familiar stops in the South End, Cambridge and even a visit to that dubious-looking hotel perched atop the Mass Turnpike." Newsday
From the bestselling author of "The Object of My Affection" and "True Enough" comes a comedy and drama in equal measure--a spot-on portrait of one man's quest for the holy trinity of modern life: true love, good sex, and great real estate.
About the Author
Stephen McCauley's novels include The Object of My Affection and The Man of the House. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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