four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-AlternativesToSexWilliam Collins (he’s 44, but recently turned "40") maintains his daily existence by obsessively cleaning, selling Boston real estate, and trawling the Internet for anonymous sexual encounters. He’s perfectly honest about his compulsive habits: he wants true love, and until he finds it, he’ll vow abstinence and admire his $150 iron. Meanwhile, he holds at bay his love for his best friend, a flight attendant named Edward who is recovering from 9/11 trauma; lunches with his father’s mistress; and tries to collect rent from an unruly tenant. But when he meets an ordinary straight couple looking for an apartment, he decides to learn something from their marriage—and the truth opens up his heart.
Simon & Schuster. 289 pages. $24. ISBN: 0743224736

Entertainment Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This is not an ambitious novel, just a nearly perfect one. … Who better to narrate a novel than a shrewd, softhearted busybody? And is there a better profession for such a narrator than selling real estate?" Jennifer Reese

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"How Americans were affected by Sept. 11 provides this novel’s leitmotif; fear, and how we sublimate or—much more rarely—reckon with it, is the theme. 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." Darcy Cosper

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"The most effortlessly drawn relationship, though—and this is where Alternatives to Sex shines as McCauley’s most joyous, nuanced, and engaging narrative to date—exists between William and Edward. … [Their courtship] is so jarringly devoid of carnality that it draws attention to the dearth of gay love stories that don’t, somehow, end up in the bedroom." Robert Kahn

People Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"As always, McCauley … offers a series of lively and trenchant character portraits and a shrewd, appealing commentary on contemporary manners and morals." Francine Prose

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"With his self-effacing wit and disarming compassion for even the most unlikely characters, McCauley proves once again that he’s a master of the modern comedy of manners." Susan Kelly

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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. … As with the Tales of the City novels, the trick is not to read too much McCauley at once, so the characters stay fresh and interesting." Meredith Broussard

Critical Summary

Stephen McCauley, author of books including The Object of My Affection (1987), has written perhaps his best novel to date. A mix of satire, moral ambiguity, and insight into human foibles, Alternative to Sex also contains raw nakedness as William searches for meaning in his life. William’s characterization as a softhearted, sharp-witted, and neurotic gay man—and his touchingly chaste relationship with Edward—rang true with critics, as did the "loony and delicious" cast of secondary characters (San Francisco Chronicle). Only the San Francisco Chronicle voiced minor complaints about the superfluous 9/11 angle, a predictable love affair, and characters appearing from McCauley’s previous work.