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Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

A grillion years ago I read and loved The Object of My Affection. I don't remember it super-well but I do very much remember that I loved it. And then, I did n't read anything by Stephen McCauley again. I don't recall ever seeing his book anywhere, or hearing about them when they came out. Turns out that despite the wide and mainstream success of OomA (and movie with Jennifer Aniston), his publisher rally pigeonholed him as a gay writer and only marketed him to that market segment (which I don't belong to.) That is a real bummer because I loved his newest novel, which makes me wonder if I should go back and read the ones I missed.

Julie and her husband are divorcing. She really wants to keep their old, rambly house north of Boston, but she's having a hard time buying him out, so she starts renting rooms on AirBnB. Her daughter, Mandy, is also having trouble with her father's new demanding nature and in order to both throw him off from attacking Julie, and also herself, she claims that she has in fact been working on college applications (she has not) with Julie's ex-husband, David, who is an independent college adviser.

Meanwhile, David's boyfriend has left him for an older man (which is somehow even more insulting than for a younger one.) And to add literal insult to injury, they really love the house where David has been the long-time tenant of the guest house, so they are buying it out from under him and evicting him. David can't afford anything else in the San Francisco area. So when he hears from Mandy and then Julie, he takes them up on their offer for him to come and visit.

Could these three become a new kind of family? Could moving in together solve both David's and Julie's problems? Does David spot problems with Mandy that Julie is too close to notice? Or are there reasons David and Julie broke up in the first place, aside from sexual incompatibility, that still exist?

This book was touching and humorous and had plenty of real-life complications (but not that ridiculous piling-on you sometimes get in novels. Life is difficult enough. Every character doesn't have to be Job.) I really liked the three different points of view, each of which felt like fully-drawn characters, even the teenager, which can be a hard voice for non-YA authors sometimes. It was so relatable that I often caught myself thinking of what I'd do in that particular moment in David's shoes, or Julie's (not so much Mandy's--I was a different kind of teenager. But I did know that kind of teenager.) I think this book is one that nearly everyone can relate to one way or another, and has an easy compassion to it, without any snarkyness or soap opera-y over-the-top plotlines. I don't disagree with the books it's being compared to, but I would add another: Ann Tyler. It has her everydayness with realistic, slightly complicated families, and an added touch of humor. Loved it.

This book is published by Flatiron, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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