Alternatives to Sex
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.
Media and praise for Alternatives to Sex
Listen to Stephen talk about Alternatives to Sex with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" (April 2006)
"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 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. 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"
"[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 (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
"Alternatives to Sex is a captivating contemporary tale about real estate lust, real lust, friendship, longing, loneliness—and the perils of compulsive house-cleaning. It's laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully wise and smart. Stephen McCauley is playing at the top of his game." Elizabeth Benedict, author of The Practice of Deceit and The Joy of Writing Sex
"Alternatives to Sex is my favorite of Stephen McCauley's wonderful novels. This is genius at work, but genius of the best, most readable kind: witty, lovable, and so amazingly smart about love in many forms—about friendship, about marriage, about real estate." Elinor Lipman, author of The Inn at Lake Devine and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
"Hilarious, poignant and true. Wickedly insightful about the new millennium's two greatest obsessions: Sex and Real Estate." Darren Star, creator of "Sex and the City"
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 lovable, 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."