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by William McCauley

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-57962-154-4
Publisher: Permanent Press

Short stories whose two main themes are announced in the title.

McCauley (Need: Stories from Africa, 2004, etc.) populates his affluent, quasi-Cheeveresque world with successful professional men and women who have too much time and not enough soul, and they could hardly screw up their lives more if they had personal assistants of chaos. They drive Volvos. They rail against their unsuccessful children. They suspect one another of infidelity, usually with ample reason. Marty grows marijuana in his basement. “It’s not a grow farm,” he insists, explaining his sticky situation to his lawyer, but the discovery of his 20-year tradition of supplying pot to family and friends leads to the threat of job loss and house foreclosure. Susan and George consummate an adulterous affair solely to get revenge on their own unfaithful spouses. Wilbert suspects Sandra of having an affair because every week she “sneaks off” to a Wednesday Bible study at a local church. We learn that Wilbert, with unconscious irony, “[accepts] the equality of men and women in all respects—except, of course, in abilities and roles.” Ben sends his wife Alice flowers and signs the card, “from a very ardent admirer,” and she’s disappointed to find out their prosaic source. A number of characters enjoy getting into grotesquely embarrassing conversations and cynically keep them going just to see what’s going to happen. While the stories are not exactly interlocked, and characters don’t, in Yoknapatawpha fashion, reappear from one story to another, the world they inhabit seems to be a common space. One recurrent setting is the “hot tub” of the title. Seemingly as an inside joke, McCauley inserts allusions to or scenes with hot tubs into almost every story. When Shree tells a sexually overheated Morgan, “God, I want to do a tub right now,” she unwittingly announces a major motif of the collection.

The characters are more shallow than the hot tubs they inhabit.