A wry and melancholy comedy of modern manners (and the lack thereof) in which a gay man briefly becomes the center of things in the lives of his mostly straight friends. Set in a rundown Cambridge, Mass., apartment house, McCauley's third (The Easy Way Out, 1992, etc.) is a haunting ballad of missed connections. Narrator Clyde is in no shape to be the ""man"" among this group of mismatched and confused characters--he's gay, hates his job teaching at The Learning Place (an adult education/singles scene deliciously skewered), and lives in mourning for a lover who's become an upwardly mobile yuppie. But when old college friend Louise arrives, with teenaged son Ben in tow, Clyde not only takes in the newcomers' dog but has to serve as intermediary for his housemate Marcus, who's just been informed that he's Ben's father. While trying to encourage Marcus to break the news to Ben, Clyde must also advise his divorced and distressed sister, Agnes, on how to handle their whiny, nasty, supposedly infirm father and Agnes's teenager punk daughter. Fortunately for the reader, Clyde's insights are memorable: ""One calamitously ill-advised affectation, like a ridiculous hairstyle, a propensity for cheap jewelry, or overdeveloped calves, can act as a magnet, drawing bad luck and misery."" Ultimately, as in a Jane Austen novel, the question to be answered is whose character will survive the tests and temptations life sets before them: Handsome Marcus wilts under pressure; the least promising character, Agnes, finds an improbable lover. And Clyde? He emerges from his ten-year lassitude prepared at last to live. A lovely, funny book that represents an impressive strengthening of McCauley's themes and talent. Without losing his refreshingly frank voice or off-center characters, he's created a lament for the way a winner-take-all society can distort and impoverish the fates of real people trying to break the downward trajectory of their lives.