An assortment of gay and straight characters uneasily assess their relationships with long-term partners, in McCauley’s tart-but-sweet fourth novel (The Man of the House, 1996, etc.).
Jane Cody makes lists in code, trying to hide from her devoted but dull second husband, Tom, the fact that she takes their weirdly adult six-year-old son, Gerald, to a shrink and has recently resumed seeing her own psychiatrist. But she’s so burned out from her job producing a Boston public TV show, shadowed by an ambitious, gorgeous young subordinate, that she forgets what the code is. Meanwhile, Desmond Sullivan grapples with ambivalent feelings about his longtime companion, Russell (who sells 1980s memorabilia in a shop on New York’s Lower East Side), and frets over his lack of progress on a biography of obscure pop singer Pauline Anderton. So Desmond takes a semester’s appointment at the college where Tom teaches, and his work inspires Jane to pitch a documentary series on “the true cultural influences: forgotten mediocrities.” She comes up with the idea to impress her philandering ex-husband, Dale, with whom she’s once again sleeping, but it also looks like a good way to pep up her career, and Desmond latches onto it as insurance in case his book contract gets canceled (his editor’s taking permanent maternity leave, and no one else is very interested). McCauley casts his customarily sharp eye on the romantic and professional contortions of Jane, Desmond, and the brilliantly etched supporting cast, most notably the fascinatingly ambiguous Rosemary, whose bestselling memoir, Dead Husband, raises intriguing questions about sincerity and truthfulness in writing. It takes a while to warm up to the intensely neurotic characters, but most readers will be propelled by McCauley’s storytelling and razor-sharp observations to a surprisingly warmhearted conclusion that undercuts its own sentimentality with the lurking suggestion that “something that’s true enough” may be as useful as the “essential truth” Desmond seeks in his biography. (P.S.: He finds it.)
Very entertaining, and McCauley digs a lot deeper than most authors of popular fiction.