Saturday, March 12, 2016

Stephen McCauley - Alternatives to Sex

William Collins is a real estate agent working near Boston. Despite a boom market, his sales figures aren't what they should be, due mostly to the distractions of compulsive ironing and housecleaning binges and his penchant for nightly online cruising for hookups -- "less impersonal than old-fashioned anonymous sex because you exchanged fake names with the person."
There's also his struggle to collect the rent from Kumiko Rothberg, his passive-aggressive tenant, and his worries about his best friend, Edward, a flight attendant he's certainly not in love with.
William has known for some time that his habits are slipping out of control. But he figures that "as long as I acknowledged my behavior was a problem, it wasn't one."
When he finally decides to do something about his life, he needs a role model of calm stability. Enter Charlotte O'Malley and Samuel Thompson, wealthy suburbanites looking for the perfect city apartment. "Happy couple," William writes in his notes. "Maybe I can learn something from them." But what he learns challenges his own assumptions about real estate, love, and desire. And what they learn from him might unravel a budding friendship, not to mention a very promising sale.
Full of crackling dialogue delivered by a stellar ensemble of players, Alternatives to Sex is social satire at its very best: A smart, sophisticated, and astonishingly funny look at the way we live now.

Comment: This is one of the many books that have been in the TBR pile for years. I was looking at some of the M/M stories that have been languishing for 5 or 6 years now (since I became interested in reading m/m more seriously) and this one caught my eye, also because of its title. I confess I didn't pay much attention at the time but now that I went to see reviews about it, the general opinion isn't too positive. Still, I had it and it could be good for me...

In this novel we follow the live of William Collins, a forty-something gay man who lives in Boston and works as a real estate agent. The book is told from his unique perspective and shows us his life, the people he meets and knows, his friends and his strange characteristics, such as having a cleaning OCD and the need to have anonymous hook ups with men he meets online.
William is trying to change his habits and he attempts celibacy but soon fails at it. But is there any hope for him and a possible romance too?

This story is a satire, this is important to know because it's not a traditional romance, in fact I wouldn't consider this as a romance, I'd label it more fiction than something else.
The writing is clearly aiming to a more complex thinking despite the humor and the apparent silliness of certain elements. Basically should people just let others do wrong choices, can we really change the stereotypes others have of us, is out society truly losing values... and these questions and others are hidden under a layer of sarcasm, clichès and a fictional story where we aren't always certain of why some characters act r think the way they do.

In a way, certain details were quite interesting but the execution isn't very easy to follow or to be engaged in. William's voice is interesting enough and many of his thoughts have a sharp aim but he's not a character I liked much, overall.
Despite his quirky charm in some scenes, I found his actions, thoughts and some attitudes to be hypocrital and morally wrong. This has nothing to do with him being gay, in fact that was his best feature, but the way he says he will be celibate and then changes his mind the next and his lack of interest or conscience by sleeping with married men or men in a relationship (even if those made their choices as well) didn't win him over to me.

I get his character illustrates a certain mentality, a certain trend as well...but the point of this novel should be to show us how "good" choices should be not how the choices that help us being better people are for naive people only; I suppose this story is only a reflex of how badly people behave nowadays. I think the message is there but the characters never seem to achieve any redemption, therefore despite all the philosophical issues we get from this, I still think that in terms of message, we don't actually have any sort of lesson to be learned here, unless one wants to be reassured everyone is selfish and cheats.

In terms of fiction, I wasn't very impressed with the book, the characters weren't captivating and often their actions and mind processes were confusing and pointless. The plot was superficial and not always interesting to follow...there is a lot to dislike and not much to appreciate and William, being the main character, should be someone we can connect to, someone we should like to know or someone whose happiness we would want to see happen or, at least, to see him acknowledge his behavior isn't good and then actually act on a change! It didn't happen and the apparent love interest for him not only was badly developed but doesn't even get a satisfying end.

All in all, interesting themes and ideas but I just can't understand how a novel can look so pointless and without any sort of balance between the good and not so good elements. It might be super clever for some, but to me it didn't work that well.
Grade: 4/10

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