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[490] The Man of the House – Stephen McCauley

” Like a lot of basically unfulfilled people with too much time on their hands, I’d fooled myself into believing that A Perfect Life and I were separated by nothing more substantial than a postage stamp. Maybe there was money in today’s mail, or an offer of a job in…Rome, . . . Or, equally likely, maybe Gordon, my ex, had come to his senses and written to tell me he’d made a mistake in leaving, the very words I’d been waiting to hear from him so I could finally forget about him and move on. ” (8)

This pretty much sums up the novel, which maintains an air of ennui and provides no clear resolution. The reading is like breathing through honey. Clyde is the inert, lovelorn gay man in his mid-thirties who finds his life stalled and unfulfilled. The numerous graduate programs, from humanities to arts, that he dabbled in but never completed earn him the perfect credential to teach at a posh but flaky (amateurish) adult learning center, where rich and well-heeled students bring their marriage problems into discussion of literature works.

Two years have passed since his lover walked out on him. Clyde is still reeling from Gordon’s departure, trying to figure out a way to patch his wounds. Although he’s not so thoroughly deluded that he’s keeping himself for the ex-boyfriend physically, I do sense that he is deluded about feeling unresolved about a relationship that is over for good. Why? I have experienced the same and everyday for two years I have pined for a sign of resolution, in terms of an explanation, if not resurrection. To pin this feeling of unease and refusing to let go McCauley is right on the dot.

In the next hour, Agnes and I picked our way through a minefield of topics that produced only minor invitation when we veered too close to anything real or significant . . . It was probably ridiculous to think that Agnes and I might ever develop a truly open and intimate relationship . . . It was as if all the things we shared, all our common longings, formed a wedge between us instead of drawing us together. (213)

As much as Clyde wants to dodge his family, Agnes, maddeningly insecure and scarred by a failed marriage, bears the news of his irascible father’s being in love. While Clyde tries to confront his father’s mysterious romance, his friend from college, Louise Morris, an eclectic writer, breezes in to his house with her son and a dog in tow. The question of the boy’s paternity nudges Clyde back to the terrain of his own father. As he strikes a friendship with the boy, he also becomes concerned with his roommate, who has spent ten years in his dissertation and too many fizzled relationships.

I’s said it to be polite, because he was taking up an increasing amount of time, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized they were true. Perhaps that was why some people need children and pets and spouses, to bring order to the chaos of their lives. (128)

I always gravitate to McCauley’s writing because he is a keen observer of relationships and their dynamics. I can always relate to his gay protagonist(s) who is less than perfect, is either wallowed in romantic woes or slightly jaded by the lack of fidelity in the gay dating world. The snippy and self-deprecating Clyde would keep himself in check and he knows his life has fallen short. McCauley’s depiction of Clyde’s intertwining relationships demonstrates his grasp of the bonds that connect the straight and the gay in the maze of life’s daily dealings. That said, the narrator’s sluggishness in the face of these concerns can make readers impatient. McCauley should have tightened up the rope.

287 pp. Washington Square Press. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

5 Responses

  1. I enjoyed your review. Despite Its flaws, I have a deep affection for this book. I know these people and care about them.

    • I love the story despite its occasionally slow pace. The premise of a gay man being a child’s mentor/surrogate father always endears me. McCauley writes with heart and he is a very good observer of people dynamics.

  2. Based on the passages you quoted, I like this author’s writing style, and books by authors who portray the complexities of human relationships really well are an easy sell for me. Despite the book’s flaws, I’m guessing I’d enjoy this one.

    • I gravitate to McCauley’s writing style—sarcastic, witty, and humorous. Sometimes he can indulge on an issue for a bit too long and I wish he would just move on.

  3. I love books that delve into the complexity of relationships. I am drawn to them.

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