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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley 
31st-May-2008 11:59 pm
McCauley, Stephen. Alternatives to Sex. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
          Summary: By day, William Collins works in real estate. By night, he trolls the Internet in search of easy hookups. Realizing that life isn't all it could be, William attempts to swear off sex and focus instead upon improving the lives of--and living vicariously through--his customers. Unfortunately, he ultimately learns that the buying and selling of homes is not going to solve the marital problems of newfound friends Charlotte and Samuel, nor is it going to bring him closer to Edward, the man who secretly loves him.
          Comments: This was, despite the rather despairing summary I wrote above, a fun, witty, refreshingly lightweight read. The prose is lovely and skips along with the fluidity of an experienced and confident writer. I was delighted by the snarky yet humane humor and the protagonist's many richly-described foibles. He is a wonderfully textured, subtle character, quite easily to love in spite of everything. No one else is quite as interesting except maybe for Charlotte, but no matter. William takes up so much space in the novel that one hardly notices.
          Alternatives to Sex is one of a modest, growing genre of post-9/11 novels that manages to perfectly capture the short-lived sense that "The world has changed forever!" and to tie that frightened yet deeply-felt sentiment into the real estate boom in a way that I've never seen elsewhere. So, though very much a product of its particular time, not to mention a very particular depiction of a very particular class of bourgeois Northeasterners, this nuanced picture of the United States at the beginning of the 21st century should give McCauley's latest a good measure of staying power. This is the first of his novels that I've ever read; I now plan to delve into his backlist for more.
          Notes: hardcover, 1st edition
          Rating: 6/10 - Both affective and hilariously funny. The perfect combination for a light bit of prose entertainment.

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