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[491] The Object of My Affection – Stephen McCauley

” Maybe I love you because I know I can’t have you. But maybe I just love you. ” (Ch.26, p.306)

This is a classic romance comedy that is McCauley’s forte. Like his other works, The Object of My Affection is largely about relationships and the family in the context of the changing parameters of gay-straight relations. Toward the end of a calamitously imperfect relationship, George, a kindergarten teacher, was kicked out by his selfish, philandering lover, Robert, George found himself at the door of Nina, a feminist who is working for her dissertation in psychology. George and Nina seem a perfect couple. They share a cozy but terminally cluttered Brooklyn apartment; they go to dancing lesson together—they love each other. The only hitch is that George is gay. Moving in with Nina is the perfect arrangement for lovelorn George, but he would never expect a more complicated relationship in store for him.

Of course, she was right: a love affair can be wonderful but a courtship is far more enduring. And our courtship endured, right through the love affair, until Nina became pregnant and raised the stakes somehow, tipped the delicate balance of our relationship. (Ch.5, p.74)

Nina is pregnant but she has no intent to marry her overbearing boyfriend. She instead finds in George, who is still reeling from the wound of his breakup, a perfect companionship in which they become best friends and make plan to raise the child. Their similar experiences—both have led lives that are shallowly rooted and marred by relationship woe have laid a solid foundation for this platonic courtship. In a sense they both try to evade further relationship mishap and find comfort and refuge in one another. Nina’s pregnancy prompts George into second thought about whether he will be a surrogate father. The arrangement seems compatible until he meets someone that George thinks would be the last person he goes on dates with.

Betraying her. And why? I’ll tell you: because you have taken on an obligation you’re not willing to admit to. (Ch.20, p. 224)

Richly nuanced with quirky humor and sarcasm, The Object of My Affection explores the meaning of relationship and interpersonal dynamics of a society that seems oppressive to both homosexual and heterosexual. Both George and Nina share a determination not to repeat the truly stunning mistakes of their parents, but, confounded as they are by the twin shipwrecks of the past and the present, it seems impossible. Throughout the novel, they grimly observe the foibles of society around them but feel hopeless to implement changes. Their desperate search for love (and safety) leads to the reinvention of courtly love. This book leaves me in contemplation of what the best approach to relationship might be. They neither find meaning nor a safe harbor, but happiness in a friendship that is a long and unconsummated courtship between two people with no expectations. What seems ideal must remain at a safe distance because all expectations are (probably) doomed to failure. The book really captures the confusion of our lives today: how to to strike a balance between self-interest and commitment, to reconcile principles with emotions.

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


2 Responses

  1. A beautiful review, and I have to say that you have hooked my interest in this one. I can sympathize with these two, wanting something safe and comfortable, but it probably IS ultimately doomed.

  2. I’d like to read this one. I enjoyed the movie version of this also.

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