Way back in the olden days (the 1990s, gasp!) there was a little book called The Object of My Affection about a kind of fat and lonely girl who falls in love with her gay best friend while she’s pregnant and they decide to raise the baby together, and then life gets in the way, etc. Everybody read it, I think it was mandatory book club fodder at the time, even though I’m not sure anyone really loved it, or really even liked it.
They even made a movie about it, with Jennifer Aniston as the fat and lonely girl (so we all know how true to the book that went), Paul Rudd as the gay friend, Tim Daly (sigh) as his bastard boyfriend, and even Nigel Fricking Hawthorne was in it, pretty much stealing the entire movie in his few minutes on screen.
The author of that book was Stephen McCauley, and admittedly, I kind of forgot about him until my current book club decided to read his newest book (#soshiny), My Ex-Life. Two chapters in, and I began to wonder, does Stephen McCauley ever write about anything that isn’t a confusing platonic/romantic relationship between a gay man and his best female friend?
I’m guessing he doesn’t. And I’m not going to read any more of his stuff to find out.
I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it. I found it exceptionally average. I read lots of reviews (NYTimes, NPR, EW), calling it a “comic novel,” which was interesting to me, because I didn’t really think it was funny. I found it to be a sort of sad look at life when middle age has past you by, and you realize that your life isn’t quite what you expected or even wanted.
David is a somewhat successful college placement advisor (for truly the worst humans in the world and their equally despicable offspring), living out in San Francisco. His much younger boyfriend has recently dumped him for another man, and David is depressed and has put on a lot of weight. On top of all of that, he finds out that his adorable apartment is for sale, so he has nowhere affordable to live. Things aren’t going great for David.
Meanwhile, Julie is getting over a divorce way out on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Her husband has left her for a younger woman, her daughter doesn’t really talk to her anymore, and she’s renting out rooms in her house on Airbnb in order to attempt to buy the house from her husband. Things aren’t going well for Julie, either.
OH. And it just so happens that Julie and David used to be married, a long time ago, before David realized he was gay. They haven’t talked in decades. But out of nowhere, Julie decides to call him and ask for his help getting her daughter Mandy into college.
David needs a change of scenery, so he flies off to the east coast, moves into Julie’s house, and becomes a part of her life.
Its all fine and good. But was it “witty and sparkling” as NPR promised? Meh. It was pretty predictable and straightforward (except for one plot, which I’ll get to in a minute). I was glad to see the main characters slowly start to figure out what they wanted out of life, and how to get it. I was happy to see real middle-aged friendship portrayed. But it didn’t grab me and make me say HEY WOW I LOVE THIS BOOK.
And there was one plot thread — with Mandy, the daughter — that I downright despised. SPOILERS. Mandy is a bit lost. She doesn’t really know what she likes or wants out of college or out of life in general. She somehow gets involved with an older guy who has a video sex chat line run out of his basement. UGH. This whole plot didn’t work for me. At all.
As a former Massachusetts resident, I did appreciate the feel and descriptions of the seaside town and the tourists there. I also gave a little chuckle (JUST THE ONE) at this description of my former hometown:
Renata looked out the window of her Uber and shook her head. Boston. As she saw it, there were certain cities in the country that were pointless. Yes, they had their fleeting beauty, their esteemed institutions, but on the whole, looked at objectively, they were inessential and pointless. Boston was one of those places. The city made sense only if you thought of it as a sprawling college campus decorated with historic sites and with a few hospitals tossed in for the convenience of Saudi princes in need of cancer treatment.
Yup. Also, Dunkin Donuts. And Tom Freakin Brady. Go Sox!