Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pleasant Page-Turner

This review of Alternatives to Sex by Stephen McCauley has been posted to Amazon.com.

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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