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 promising sale.
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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
January 09, 2007
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Excerpt from Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley
My decision to practice celibacy had nothing to do with prudery or penance, morality or manners, dysfunction, or fear of disease. It had very little to do with sex. It was all about real estate.
What had started out, one year earlier, as a bout of benign computer dating -- a euphemism for online chatting followed by brief encounters, less impersonal than old-fashioned anonymous sex because you exchanged fake names with the person -- had turned into an almost daily ritual that had replaced previous pastimes such as reading, going to the movies, working, exercising, and eating. I'm exaggerating, of course, but by how much, I'd rather not say. For months, I'd known that my habits were slipping out of control, but I figured that as long as I acknowledged my behavior was a problem, it wasn't one.
And then, one rainy September morning -- coincidentally, the same morning Samuel Thompson and Charlotte O'Malley wandered into my life -- I woke up and decided that too much really was enough. I could feel trouble pressing down on me like the low dark sky outside my bedroom window. I lived in a house near the top of a steep, San Francisco-like hill, but rather than a view of the Pacific, I saw from my windows the colorful sprawl of Somerville, Massachusetts -- jagged rooftops and the tight grid of streets -- and in the near distance, the cozy, unimpressive skyline of Boston, minimized this morning by the clouds.