I Love Stephen McCauley’s Insignificant Others.

Posted on June 9, 2010
Filed Under Book Review, Strong Recommendation | 462 Comments

I love Stephen McCauley’s new novel, Insignificant Others. It is frequently humorous and for this reason, some are referring to it as a “comic novel.”  But this term does not do justice to this book. Because it implies a surface cleverness. And there is nothing superficial about this novel.  The term “comic novel” also implies characters which are flat: sit com-like. This isn’t at all true here. Indeed, one of the strengths of Mr. McCauley is his ability to render multi-dimensional characters.  He does this by perfectly presenting the first impression and then as the novel progresses, he presents different aspects of these characters–allowing us to view them from various angles.

Mr. McCauley’s work is sometimes likened to that of Armistead Maupin.  And there are some clear similarities.  Both have naturally humorous dialogue, both have solid structure–and even suspense.  And both authors have a strong sense of place.  For Armistead Maupin it’s San Francisco.  For Stephen McCauley it’s Boston. But for me, this novel more closely resembles the work of John Updike–particularly his last two “Rabbit” books.  Like Updike, McCauley demonstrates a surprisingly loving attention to detail. And at the same time, the narrator has a certain ironic distance from his subject. In fact, the title of this book is ironic. Because these “others” don’t turn out to be so “insignificant” after all.  Far from it.

As the title implies Insignificant Others is about a man who discovers his long term partner is having a potentially serious affair.  The narrator, Richard Rossi, is at the same time negotiating a long term affair with a man who is married with children.  It says something about the maturity of Mr. McCauley, that this character is rendered sympathetically.  But Mr. McCauley knows too much about humanity to present any of these characters as villains. Or for that matter, heroes.  There are none of them in this book.  Only beautifully written complex, fascinating characters.

And yes, you will laugh out loud.

Stephen McCauley’s Insignificant Others is published by Simon and Schuster.

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