Montreal Gazette

A witty look at a better world

- You Only Call When You're in Trouble Stephen Mccauley Henry Holt MEREDITH MARAN For The Washington Post

Since his first novel, The Object of My Affection, became a bestseller in 1987 and a hit movie in 1998, Stephen Mccauley has been writing stories that challenge and expand the definition and parameters of gay life and the “gay fiction” category. In the film, Jennifer Aniston (straight) and Paul Rudd (gay) play best friends who become lovers and co-parents. In Mccauley's 1996 novel, The Man of the House, roommates Clyde (gay) and Marcus (straight) obsess over their exes with the equal-opportunit­y angst of teenagers. My Ex-life (2018) revolves around (gay) David's tortured relationsh­ip with his (straight) ex-wife, Julie. In Mccauley's tales, then and now, the rigid rules of sexual-orientatio­n segregatio­n do not apply.

Thanks in part to this kind of bias-busting representa­tion, much has changed for queer people, in life and in literature, since the 1980s, which the magazine the Bookseller called “the decade of the gay novel.” AIDS. Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Legal marriage. Gender-neutral bathrooms. It's a testament to Mccauley's prescience, faith and talent for fictional world-building that his eighth novel — the first in five years — resumes the wishand-make-it-true fiction that he and other gay authors started publishing decades ago.

In You Only Call When You're in Trouble, Mccauley drops us into a real-life land, somewhat resembling ours now, in which sexual orientatio­n is part of the landscape, not an unnatural disaster, and love is love (and mishegoss) no matter its form.

In alternatin­g chapters, we hear from Mccauley's three related but very different protagonis­ts: gay, 60-something architect and Olympic-level codependen­t Tom; Tom's self-serving, needy, straight younger sister, Dorothy; and Dorothy's professor daughter, Cecily. As the novel opens, Dorothy is ambivalent­ly inviting Cecily to attend her latest gambit: the opening of her new retreat centre in Woodstock, N.Y., which is her “last chance at a business success.” Revealing a terminal case of maternal narcissism, Dorothy writes, “Give me the chance to make YOU proud of ME.” Or not. When her daughter shows up, Dorothy decides it's finally time to correct the lie she's told for 30 years: that she doesn't know who Cecily's father is. Dorothy does indeed know, and that truth, if told, has the power to shatter Cecily's world.

In certain sectors of the queer community — the crusaders who brought us same-sex marriage, for example — equality means seamless assimilati­on into the larger straight world. To other queer folk, the spoils of heteronorm­ativity — state-sanctioned marriage, PTA membership, corporatiz­ed Pride parades — threaten what makes queer people and queer culture uniquely, delightful­ly queer. Mccauley falls firmly into the first camp.

The book is a skilfully written, playful paean to a melting-pot society, in which love means never having to name your orientatio­n, and neuroses like failure to launch, narcissism and codependen­cy are equally distribute­d across the populace.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada