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Alternatives to Sex: A Novel Hardcover – March 28, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

McCauley's latest blunt and funny novel lays bare the inner life and obsessive-compulsive behavior of William Collins, a gay 40-something Boston realtor who struggles to give up trolling the Internet for impersonal sexual liaisons. Taking stock of the year following 9/11, William attributes his promiscuity to "posttraumatic self-indulgence" and unsuccessfully attempts to trade one addiction for another: cleaning house (not always his own). When affluent straight couple Charlotte O'Malley and Samuel Thompson arrive at his office, prowling for a new home, William hopes he can close the sale and wonders if he can look to their marriage as inspiration for a long-term relationship. While McCauley entertains with a motley group of supporting characters, the novel pivots on William's close friendship with Edward, a flight attendant. Hoping to preserve their relationship by keeping it romance-free, William tries to deny his feelings for the ever-patient Edward. McCauley (True Enough) delivers the promise of emotional progress for his flawed, charming protagonist in this clever take on the desire for love, sex and real estate.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Stephen McCauley, author of books including The Object of My Affection (1987), has written perhaps his best novel to date. A mix of satire, moral ambiguity, and insight into human foibles, Alternative to Sex also contains raw nakedness as William searches for meaning in his life. William's characterization as a softhearted, sharp-witted, and neurotic gay man—and his touchingly chaste relationship with Edward—rang true with critics, as did the "loony and delicious" cast of secondary characters (San Francisco Chronicle). Only the San Francisco Chronicle voiced minor complaints about the superfluous 9/11 angle, a predictable love affair, and characters appearing from McCauley's previous work.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (March 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743224736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743224734
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,154,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By I. Sondel VINE VOICE on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've been meaning to read Stephen McCauley (the author of "The Object of My Affections") for years. Happily, "Alternatives to Sex" has proven a great place to start. A social commentary and observational portrait of a forty-something gay man, this is the sort of novel once referred to as a comedy of manners.

At forty-four William Collins has discovered that his well appointed life, though expertly decorated and certainly clean (he's an obsessive compulsive), is both sterile and empty. William seems emotionally adrift, looking for sex in all the wrong places when what he's obviously seeking is love and companionship. He resolves to give up anonymous sex and focus on his professional and spiritual lives.

As a real estate agent William is a bust in a booming market. However, it is through his Boston real estate office that we meet most of the characters that populate McCauley's wonderfully inventive narrative. Most notably we meet Edward, a flight attendant prone to panic attacks since 9/11, who finds that unrequited love truly is a bore, and though he's got it pretty bad, he's ready to give up all hope that his friendship with William will ever blossom. So, though love may be just around the corner, our hero is just myopic enough that he has to walk around the block a dozen times before he stumbles upon it. It is to the author's credit that we as readers don't mind taking the walk with these characters, and hoping that William will open his eyes to the happiness right in front of him.

"Alternatives to Sex" is most decidedly an entertainment, the kind of novel Mrs. Smiley (from "Cold Comfort Farm") might refer to as amusing and diverting, so good it has inspired me to look for other books by McCauley. I can't think of higher praise than that.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By D. Bradbury-Powell on August 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The only bad part of this novel is that it ends. Had read all Mr. McCauley's other novels, and adored them. This one seems more mature and developed than the other books. I'm a sucker for characters in ruts that evolve and "grow-up" (as a character in the book, Marty, would say) and this novel did not disappoint. It's true that there weren't many suprises, but who needs those, in real life we figure out what others should do long before ever they do. The narrative is somehow a page-turner, yet moves slowly enough to flesh out so many realistic supporting characters as well. It was thrilling and heartwarming to witness William's transformation to adulthood without having morality crammed down our throats. I look forward to Mr. McCauley's next book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Richard Nelson on June 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book definitely has its moments. The characters are cleverly drawn, from the neurotic narrator, William, to his fastidious flight attendant friend, Edward, to pugnacious ex-marine and professional motivator Marty.

There are moments of delicious irony, like when William talks to a real estate client about a salacious book she wrote about female sexuality that sold well because of its clever title, Come Again. Clearly McCauley chose his title for the same reason, though for me it had the effect of drawing a few vexed looks from people who saw me reading it.

And there are moments of profundity, appropriate as this is, more than anything else, the story of William figuring out what really matters. (He begins the book addicted to internet-arranged trysts and ends it with a notion of what it means to love someone.) His talks with his mother about the nature of love add up to an important lesson.

Just don't slow down! If you do, you'll figure out what's coming, and once you do you'll also begin to notice that there aren't enough pages left for it to happen. That's because it doesn't--McCauley chooses to end the book on the verge of the development it leads up to, rather than giving the reader the satisfaction of witnessing it. Perhaps this is meant to tell us that the journey to understanding what matters is more important than the destination, but it makes turning the last page a bit sad.

Nevertheless, this is a quality novel, but light enough to be perfect for summer. Definitely recommended, especially if you're looking for an interesting plot, pleasant but slightly warped characters, and plenty of wry humor.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Stephen McCauley's latest is certainly well worth reading. He writes with a great deal of humor but with just as much insight as to why we as human animals do some of the things we do. The novel is set in Massachusetts a year after 9/11 when people are trying to be better, or they go shopping to feel better or they withdraw into themselves. William Collins is forty-something, a real estate agent working near Boston-- McCauley has either sold real estate or knows someone who has as his take on the industry seems to be right on target-- who decides that he must do something about his life, that he will become celibate -- with an occasional lapse-- and concentrate on his profession. William is a compulsive housecleaner; irons and vacuum cleaners are some of his favorite things. He meets most of his dates on the internet where his name is Everett and his age is not accurate. His best friend is Edward, a flight attendant stationed in Boston who has anxiety attacks when he flies because of the aftershocks of 9/11. William rents out an apartment to Kumiko, an artist who is more con-artist then anything else. She manipulates William into not paying her rent and even gets him to do her ironing, although he never learns how to iron pleated skirts. There are several other assorted characters-- Charlotte and Samuel (a happy couple?), Didier, a boyfriend whom he does not sleep with because of his new celibacy, William's mother in a retirement home, whose love object she has met only via the internet, et al.

McCauley though his characters, usually William but not always, says both funny and sometimes profound things: William's idea of exercise is "making plans to go to the gym." "You can choose who you go to bed with, but you can't choose his decor.
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