William Collins, a Boston realtor, has known for some time that his habits are slipping out of control, but "I figured that as long as I acknowledged my behaviour was a problem, it wasn't one". He finally decides to do something about his compulsive cleaning binges, his lacklustre sales figures, and his penchant for nightly anonymous online sex, but he needs a role model for calm stability.
Enter Charlotte O'Malley and Samuel Thompson, wealthy suburbanites looking for the perfect apartment in the city. 'Happy couple' William writes in his notes. "Maybe I can learn something from them". But what William learns challenges his own assumptions about love, real estate and desire. And what they learn from him just might unravel a budding friendship, not to mention a very promising sale. Stephen McCauley's new novel is a cunningly spun chronicle of life in post-traumatic, morally ambiguous America, where the heartfelt desire to do good is constantly tripped up by the need to feel good.
Praise for Alternatives to Sex
"Hilarious... Witty and poignant look at a post 9/11 world." — Publishing News
"A writer with a fierce, occasionally lacerating wit; a gimlet eye for human foibles; and a commendable willingness to dally in ambivalence and moral ambiguity with not entirely likeable characters—talents put to excellent use in his latest novel... How Americans were affected by Sept. 11 provides this novelís 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. As always, McCauley has a light touch. The comic set pieces, clever banter and savagely efficient character descriptions for which he is known are all here. But make no mistake: McCauley is a social satirist in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh and Oscar Wilde—and like them, he's a serious writer indeed" — Los Angeles Times
"Amiable, funny novel... entertains us with a series of bonnes bouches on dating, marriage and real estate." — The Independent
"An insightful and very funny read." — The Big Issue
"The New York Times called McCauley 'The secret Love Child of Edith Wharton and Woody Allen.' Who are we to disagree?" — Gay Times
"McCauley's engaging fifth novel recalls the odd, impulsive behaviors that overtook Americans in the year following September 11, 2001. His dialogue is distinguished by comic, low-grade hostilities exchanged between friends, families and neighbors—and these safeguards have never been as funny and relevant, or seemed so necessary, as in recent years, with threats perceived from every direction. McCauley gets it exactly right." — James Klise for Booklist (Starred)
"[B]lunt and funny...McCauley delivers the promise of emotional progress for his flawed, charming protagonist in this clever take on the desire for love, sex and real estate." — Publishers Weekly
"Perfectly crafted... Breezy and light, with a sadness that balances everything." — Bill Goldstein (NYTimes.com) on NBC's "Today" show (Click here to view the full segment)
"[F]unny and affecting... As always, McCauley...offers a series of lively and trenchant character portraits and shrewd, appealing commentary on contemporary manners and morals." — Francine Prose for People Magazine (4 Stars - Critic's Choice)
"Delightful...nearly perfect." — Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
"McCauley's best... there is a nakedness, in more ways than one, that sets this novel apart. 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, USA Today
Words from the author...
This book started as my attempt to write about what happens when a single man idealizes the happiness of a married couple and develops a crush on them. I also wanted to write about the strange loneliness that people can sometimes feel when they're part of a long-term couple. You know your partner so intimately, can gauge all of his responses and reactions, being together is almost like being alone. But I couldn't make the couple truly loveable, and I ended up focusing on the single man and his attempts to come to terms with his own loneliness.
I had been working with friends on developing a TV series about a real estate agent. It's a perfect job for a weekly show. Every new sale is a new personal drama: divorce, marriage, a secret love affair, sudden wealth. That show never materialized, and I gave William, the narrator of this novel, the job. It lets him enter the lives and apartments of his clients and become involved with them.
I decided to break the book down into short chapters of no more than a few pages each, mostly so I could add lots of digressions and social commentary and observations about people's lives without weighing down the scenes too much.