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Book Explores Gay Dads’ Paths to Parenthood

As more and more gay men set out to become parents, a new book by University of Iowa Professor Ellen Lewin explores their desire to become parents, the challenges they face along the path to parenthood, and how fatherhood affects their identities as gay men.
“Gay Fatherhood,” an ethnography published by the University of Chicago Press, is the result of interviews with nearly 100 gay men who have or are trying to have children. The book chronicles the men’s lives, investigating how they cope with political attacks from the right and left, including criticism from peers in the gay community who view parenthood as a sign of conformity.
“Many people can understand lesbian’s desire to have a baby because they appreciate the idea of maternal instinct,” said Lewin, professor of anthropology and women’s studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They’re much more suspicious about why gay men would want to be dads, and therefore gay men have to jump through a lot more hoops to be parents.”
Adoption through the foster system is the most affordable way for gay men to become fathers, but Lewin discovered they are typically last in line in the system, meaning they must consider whether they will accept an older child, a child with disabilities, or a child of a different race.
“Straight, middle-class married couples get first pick,” she said. “Heterosexual singles come next, and then gay people of various sorts. Some states prohibit gays from adopting, but a lot of individual social workers realize these guys can be good parents and want to get the kids into homes. There are 100,000 kids in the system, half of which are available for adoption. Most will never get adopted and will remain in the system until age 18, so there’s a sense of urgency.”
Domestic adoption through a private agency can run $20,000, and some mothers will not select gay men to raise their babies. Options for overseas adoptions, which can cost up to $40,000, are limited. Guatemala is one of the few countries with rules flexible enough to allow gay men to adopt, but one partner is invisible during the process – and the fact that the adoptive dad is gay is not advertised. Surrogacy allows a biological connection to one dad but costs upwards of $100,000.
“They have to make choices about what they want versus what they can afford,” Lewin said. “In some cases, gay couples have more financial resources because they’re men, and men make more money. But for a typical middle-class gay couple, some of these options are out of reach.”
Some dads described their urge to become parents as a natural impulse that crept up as they matured. They spoke disparagingly about stereotypical gay life, saying they wanted to do something significant in life – not just look back on fun parties and a well-decorated home.
A desire to pass on values and traditions was motivation for some of the men to become parents. Several expressed a desire to be considered a family, not just a couple.
“The definition of family in American culture is linked to having kids,” Lewin said. “When people ask whether you have a family, they don’t mean, ‘Do you have any relatives?’ or ‘Do you have a spouse or partner?’ They mean ‘Do you have children?’”
In some cases, moral or spiritual beliefs ignited a desire to have children. Men talked about how parenting inspired them to be better people, or about rescuing kids that “no one else wanted.”
One man adopted a homeless, transgender teen who was in trouble for petty theft and drugs and helped her turn her life around. Another man took in a child who was severely disabled by a stroke. The child was unable to walk, talk, make eye contact, speak or eat, and was believed to be deaf. As the dad “moved heaven and earth,” Lewin said, the child improved. He learned to walk and talk, graduated from high school, and now lives semi-independently in a group home.
“I interviewed several guys who adopted kids with disabilities or other challenges and basically gave their lives up for their child,” Lewin said. “But most weren’t out to be heroes or do something revolutionary by becoming gay fathers. Most were ordinary people who live in suburbs, go to Disney World for their vacations, and just want to have children like anyone else.”
When Lewin asked the dads about how parenthood affected their identities as gay men, responses were split. One dad felt “more gay” because he stood out from the straight parents with which he was surrounded; his partner felt “less gay” because they socialized mainly with straight parents from their kids’ school, and friendships with childless gay friends waned.
“Some dads were wistful about aspects of gay life before kids – maybe they missed going to the clubs, or the opera. But one of the findings was that once you’re a parent, you hang out with people you meet at your kid’s play group,” Lewin said. “One couple said, jokingly, ‘We aren’t really gay anymore. We pick our friends based on whose kids have the same nap time.’”
Fatherhood also had an impact on the dads’ relationships with their own families. Homophobia had driven a wedge between some men and their parents, but the grandchild provided a bond.
“I heard stories about gay men who were estranged from their families, but once they had a kid, the grandparents came over all the time,” Lewin said. “Their relatives may not have understood or supported them in the past, but having kids was something their family got and related to.”

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Seth Lerer Wins 2010 Truman Capote Award

Newswise — “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter” by University of California, San Diego faculty member Seth Lerer, published by the University of Chicago Press, is the winner of the 2010 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. The $30,000 award – the largest annual cash prize in English-language literary criticism – is administered for the Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Lerer, dean of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego, where he is Distinguished Professor in the department of literature, will receive the award in a free, public event at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 6, in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol on the UI campus. Lerer will speak on “Criticism and the Classroom,” and a reception will follow.

“Children’s Literature” was chosen by an international panel of prominent critics and writers – Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and Elaine Showalter – each of whom nominated two books. Books of general literary criticism in English, published during the last four years, are eligible for nomination. After reading all the nominated books, each critic ranked the nominees.

The book, which previously won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award, is a scholarly volume also aimed at an audience beyond academe. The book is also a kind of “intellectual autobiography,” touching on Lerer’s own youthful passion for reading and his experience as a parent. “I thought about it from a personal view, watching how my son grew into a reader,” he said.

Maria Tatar of Harvard University called the book “a breathtakingly powerful and complex history of children’s literature that energizes rather than depletes.”

“Lerer gives us the facts,” Tatar said, “but he also weaves experiences and stories into an account that moves in registers ranging from the ecstatic to the elegiac. An ideal guide for students new to the field of children’s literature as well as for scholars familiar with the territory.”

Rachael Scarborough King wrote in the New Haven Review, “It’s a thick scholarly tome, but also a charming read that revels in children’s imaginations and the timeless works that stimulate them…. The book’s main attraction is its obvious delight in the subject matter: Lerer perfectly captures the love of literature that follows a voracious child reader into adulthood.”

And a starred review in the Library Journal raved, “Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre….

“Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.”

Lerer is also the author of “Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language,” “Error and the Academic Self,” “Courtly Letters in the Age of Henry VIII,” “Chaucer and His Readers,” “Boethius and Dialogue: Literary Method in the Consolation of Philosophy” and “Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature.”

Lerer has received grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Huntington Library. He holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the University of Oxford, and he earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

The Truman Capote Estate announced the establishment of the Truman Capote Literary Trust in 1994, during a breakfast at Tiffany’s in New York City, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Capote’s novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Past winners of the Capote Award have been British scholar P.N. Furbank, Helen Vendler of Harvard University; John Felstiner of Stanford University; John Kerrigan of Cambridge University; pianist/scholar Charles Rosen of the University of Chicago; Elaine Scarry and Philip Fisher of Harvard University; Malcolm Bowie of Oxford University; Declan Kiberd of University College, Dublin; Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney; Susan Stewart of Princeton University; Angus Fletcher of the City University of New York Graduate School; Geoffrey Hartman of Yale University; William Gass of Washington University in St. Louis; Helen Small of Pembroke College, Oxford University; and Geoffrey Hill of Boston University.

In addition to the administration of the literary criticism award, the Writers’ Workshop involvement with the trust includes awarding Truman Capote Fellowships to UI students in creative writing.

The establishment of the Truman Capote Literary Trust was stipulated in the author’s will, and the Annual Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin reflects Capote’s frequently expressed concern for the health of literary criticism in the English language. The awards are designed to reward and encourage excellence in the field.

Newton Arvin, in whose memory the award was established, was one of the critics Capote admired. However, Arvin’s academic career at Smith College was destroyed in the late 1940s when his homosexuality was exposed.

The Writers’ Workshop is a graduate program in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Explore the writing programs at the UI at

About UC San Diego
Founded in 1960, the University of California, San Diego is ranked the best value public university in California by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and the 7th best public university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Named the “hottest” institution to study science by Newsweek, UC San Diego is one of the nation’s most accomplished research universities, widely acknowledged for its local impact, national influence and global reach. Renowned for its collaborative, diverse and cross-disciplinary ethos that transcends traditional boundaries in science, arts and the humanities, the university attracts stellar faculty, students and staff. For more information, please visit

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Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman

Newswise — U.S. Rep. Barney Frank will appear at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Tuesday, Feb. 16 to discuss his 30-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives, and to sign copies of his biography “Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman,” published by the University of Massachusetts Press.

The event, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Student Union Ballroom at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is free and open to the public.

Joining the congressman will be author Stuart Weisberg, who conducted more than 30 hours of interviews with Frank and interviewed 150 other people in researching the biography. Weisberg’s biography for the first time reconstructs Frank’s life and career, from his working-class childhood in Bayonne, N.J., to his years at Harvard and in Boston politics, through his rise to national prominence – and examines the pressure Frank has felt as the most well-known, openly gay politician in the United States.

As chairman for the House Financial Services Committee, Frank has been at the center of the legislative response to the economic collapse that began on Wall Street in 2008, and has emerged as an outspoken proponent of regulatory reform. He was instrumental in crafting a compromise bill to stem the tide of home mortgage foreclosures, as well as the subsequent $700 billion rescue plan.

First elected in 1980, Frank represents the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District, which includes 29 towns – and a population of 600,000 – stretching from the Boston suburbs of Newton and Brookline south to New Bedford, Taunton and Fall River. In a survey conducted by Washington magazine, Barney Frank was rated the smartest, funniest and most eloquent member of Congress.

Stuart Weisberg is a Washington veteran, having spent 10 years as staff director and chief counsel for the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Employment and Housing. His friendship with Frank dates back to 1971 when he was a summer intern in the office of U.S. Rep. Michael Harrington’s office where Frank was chief of staff.

Spotlighted by the University of Massachusetts Press for its balance and thoroughness, the biography has earned high marks from journalists and politicians alike, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cokie Roberts of ABC and NPR News, and CNN political commentator Jeffery Toobin, who said that it “is not just definitive – it’s as entertaining and fascinating as its subject.”

UMass Amherst chancellor Robert Holub will introduce Frank and Weisberg who will discuss the book and respond to questions. Both guests will also sign copies of “Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman” which will be offered at a special price of $20.

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Terrible Splendor by Marshall Jon Fisher

a terrible splendorBefore Federer v. Nadal, before Borg v. McEnroe, the greatest tennis match ever played pitted the dominant Don Budge against the seductively handsome Baron Gottfried von Cramm. This deciding 1937 Davis Cup match, played on the hallowed Wimbledon grounds, was a battle of titans: the world’s No. 1 tennis player against the No. 2; America against Germany; democracy against fascism. For five superhuman sets, the duo’s brilliant shotmaking kept the Centre Court crowdand the worldspellbound.

But the match’s significance extended well beyond the immaculate grass courts of Wimbledon. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the brink of World War II, one man played for the pride of his country while the other played for his life. Budge, the humble hard-working American who would soon become the first man to win the Grand Slam—all four major titles in the same year—vied to keep the Davis Cup out of the hands of the Nazi regime. On the other side of the net, the immensely popular and elegant von Cramm fought Budge point for point knowing that a loss might precipitate his descent into the living hell being constructed behind barbed wire back home.

Born into an aristocratic family, von Cramm was admired for his devastating good looks as well as his unparalleled sportsmanship. But he harbored a dark secret, one that put him under increasing Gestapo surveillance. And his situation was made even more perilous by his refusal to join the Nazi Party or defend Hitler. Desperately relying on his athletic achievements and the global spotlight to keep him out of the Gestapo’s clutches, his strategy was to keep traveling and keep winning. A Davis Cup victory would make him the toast of Germany. A loss might be catastrophic.

Watching the mesmerizingly intense match from the stands was von Cramm’s mentor and tennis’s all-time superstar Bill Tildena consummate showman whose double life would run in ironic counterpoint to that of his German protege.

Also in the grandstand were a panoply of personalities who form a fascinating supporting cast for the drama on court. Movie stars, famous journalists, a Nobel-Prize-winning statesman, and one of America’s greatest humorists all make prominent appearances. The Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism and homophobia both there and also in England and the U.S., and the Holocaust are all important themes in this at a time when sports and politics were inextricably linked, A Terrible Splendor gives readers a courtside seat on that fateful day, moving gracefully between the tennis match for the ages and the dramatic events leading Germany, Britain, and America into global war. A book like no other in its weaving of social significance and athletic spectacle, this soul-stirring account is ultimately a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

authorphoto2A Terrible Splendor’s author, Marshall Jon Fisher was born in 1963 in Ithaca, New York, grew up in Miami, and graduated from Brandeis University, where he played varsity tennis. He worked as a sportswriter in Miami and a tennis pro in Munich before moving to New York City, where he received an M.A. in English at City College. In 1989 he moved to Boston and began working as a freelance writer and editor.

He has written on a variety of topics for The Atlantic Monthly, ranging from wooden tennis rackets to Internet fraud, and his work has also appeared in Harper’sDiscover, DoubleTake, and other publications, as well as The Best American Essays 2003. His book The Ozone Layer was selected by The New York Public Library as one of the best books for teenagers of 1993. His book (with his father, David E. Fisher) Tube: the Invention of Television was published by Counterpoint in 1996 and by Harcourt Brace in paperback in 1997. Their second book together, Strangers in the Night: a Brief History of Life on Other Worlds (Counterpoint 1998), was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the twenty-five Books to Remember of 1998.

A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played

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Herbert List

threoBALTIC SEA, Germany—Wrestling Boys, 1933.
© Herbert List / Magnum Photos

Herbert List (German, 1903-75) was a classically educated artist who combined a love of photography with a fascination for Surrealism and Classicism. List rose to become the most prominent photographer of the Fotografia Metafisica style. He has described his images as “composed visions where [my] arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.” Here, Magnum and Slate present one area of his oeuvre: his exquisite studies of young men in top form.

Born into a prosperous Hamburg merchant family, List begins in 1921 an apprenticeship at a Heidelberg coffee dealer and studies literature and art history at Heidelberg University. The young man takes photographs during his travels between 1924-1928 for the coffee business of his father, as yet without any artistic pretensions.

In 1930, his artistic leanings and connections to the European avant-garde bring him together with Andreas Feininger. Feininger introduces him to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera facilitating deliberate composition of his images. Under the binary influence of the surrealist movement on one side and Bauhaus artists on the other, List starts to develop his own style by photographing still life images and friends. He describes his images as being composed visions where his arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.

When he leaves Germany in 1936 for political and personal reasons, he turns his hobby into a profession. He works in Paris and London, meets George Hoyningen-Huene, who refers him to Harper’s Bazaar for some projects. Unsatisfied with the work of a fashion photographer, he focuses on composing still life pictures in studios instead. The images created here will be compared later to the paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico. List becomes the most prominent photographer representative of a style called fotografia metafisica.

herbert_list_3Greece is List’s main interest from 1937 to 1939. After his first visit to the antique temples, sculptures and landscapes, his first solo show in Paris opens in the summer of 1937. Publications in Life, Photographie, Verve and Harpers Bazaar follow and List works on his first book called “Licht Ueber Hellas”, which won’t be published until 1953. During his work in Athens, List hopes to escape the war but is forced by the invading troops to return to Germany in 1941. Some of his work, which is stored in a hotel in Paris, is lost forever. Because of his Jewish family descent, List is not allowed to publish or work officially in Germany.

Portraits of Berard, Cocteau, Honnegger and Picasso during a short visit to Paris and a series on the Panoptikum in Vienna characterize List’s main work before the war ends in 1945. In 1946 he photographs the ruins of war-torn Munich and becomes art editor of HEUTE, an American magazine for the German public. More portraits of European artists and photo-essays for European and American magazines follow.

In 1951 Herbert List meets Robert Capa, who convinces him to work as a contributor to Magnum. List turns his interest towards Italy from 1950 to 1961: from street scenes to contemplative photoessays – from architectual views to portraits of international artists living in Italy. In 1953 he discovers the 35 mm camera with the telephoto lens. His work is now more spontanous and is influenced by his Magnum colleague Henri Cartier Bresson and the Italian Neo Realism film mouvement. List completes several book projects in the following years: Licht Ueber Hellas (1953), Rome (1955), Caribia (1958), Nigeria (1961) and Napoli (1962) in collaboration with Vittorio de Sica.

In the mid 60s List gradually loses interest in photography. His collection of Italian Old Master Drawings absorbs his full attention, involving numerous trips to collectors, museums and auctions mainly in Italy, London, Paris and New York. He dies in Munich in 1975.

Learn more at the List Estate web site.

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Gay AA

Screw the statistics, gay people have drug problems exactly the same as everyone else on the planet. Some of them, anyway. A lot of them. Maybe you are one of them. The question is: When does it become a problem? The answer is: as soon as you start asking yourself that question. However, the gay lifestyle perhaps offers a few more opportunities for the bad habits to emerge. Before the web and still today, gay men often seek each other at bars or bathhouses or parties – usually with alcohol and more. P’n’P with T’n’G taints the online atmosphere with the burnt-plastic smell of one more pull off the pipe. Whether your poison is liquid, solid, gasseous or even emotional – addiction can destroy your life and kill you. Everybody knows that, right? So why do we do it? Stress and emotional responses to outside influences drive people to use, and gay people have an extra helping of that. Just coming to terms with one’s own “abnormality” can incite a cocktail or two, especially when going “out” to actually act on those impulses to be gay. There’s a saying: Everyone goes down well with beer! Then there are the pressures on gay people from the outside world. When one does not understand oneself, other unsympathetic people and organizations can paint an ugly picture that is internalized and pushes us again to escape. To a certain extent, everyone wants to escape now and then. Holidays and parties and vacations spice up our humdrum reality. Liquor, smoke, food and sex are built right into our social and recreational structures. Humans have always had a need for – or at least a propensity towards – getting fucked up! Read Intoxication for a great review of how well we have made use of the many chemical gifts from God. Altering body chemistry is even something animals do. Ever seen a drunk bird, or a goat on caffiene? When the party starts, who wants it to stop? For some people the limits are clear and easy. But for others, well, more equals better. And more. And more. “Last Call” for some just means “go home and continue with the party.” intoxicationDon’t worry. This isn’t going to become one of those articles that outlines the terrible ends that can come from self-neglect. Just watch Reqium for a Dream or read Love Hurts if you really want to scare yourself. Better yet, simply look in the mirror and ask yourself if you think you may have a sticking point in your behaviour. It’s OK if you do. Addiction is as normal as homosexuality – probably even more so! Just as every town has a glory hole, every neighborhood it seems has an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous or Emotions Anonymous … and for good reason! Overcoming your personal challenges is difficult, and the wisdom and support of a group of like-minded (and like-troubled) people is what the “Twelve Step” groups are all about. Twelve Steps. We hear that term a lot, but what does it mean? All those “steps” may sound like a lot of work, but they are just baby steps and can be taken very slowly. Each one contains a bit a healing, a bit of making up for the past and a bit of hope for the future, and all the while a group of friends is there to help when you need it. Add a dash of spirituality and that is the gist of most programs. What they all agree on is: take things at your own pace. The program is outlined in the Big Book, online here. Visitors are welcome, not required to speak about anything and just like in the gay bars: no last names are exchanged. And it really does work! Curious folk can learn more about AA, NA and other friendly groups a the official site. Visit the official site to find a meting near you. There are many, many groups with meetings all the time. If you are considering the need for a helping hand, you might want to consider a gay AA group. Although programs are open to all visitors and all walks of life are well represented in AA, groups tend to form around like-minded people. Find your local gay groups here and know that they welcome you whenever you find yourself wondering if you need help.

fox shuffles around its fall schedule on dish networkBut it turns out there are effects beyond simply making people unbearable to be around. A study published in 2007 by researches from Columbia and Stanford University found that frequently praised kids eventually came to believe that intelligence and talent were things they were born with, things Replica Oakleys which under no possible circumstances could be improved. With Hicks’ well publicised connections to the US President, the Dubya Freedom Dome might soon rise over Stanley Park. Then again, it might be something more tasteful, like Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Colorado venue where Celtic will play in the MLS All Star game this summer.. Sahel Kazemi, seen here with nephew Farzin Kazemi, had been arrested for a DUI two days prior to her and McNair’s death. Police say the nfl jerseys cheap arrest provoked her to purchase the gun which cheap oakleys was used to take her and McNair’s life that same day. And when we talk about good form we want to talk about a good form of our body. When we have our knees bent, and our back has a nice arch in it so that we are almost straight up and down. Toews, of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, scored on a deflection with just more than seven minutes left in the first period. Crosby, of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, added his goal on a breakaway with four minutes, 17 seconds left in the second period.In the third, Kunitz stole possession just outside the Swedish blue line, moved into the zone and sent a wrist shot above the shoulder of goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. First we need to find a safe place that’s mounted on metal and not glass or plastic. So that is a good place for us. Sager’s persistence was on display at the start of his career, when the 22 year old found himself in the middle of one of the most famous moments in sports history. Making $95 a week in 1974 as the news director at WSPB a Braves affiliated AM radio station in Sarasota, Florida cheap nhl jerseys Sager risked Baratas Replicas Ray Ban getting fired by deciding to hop a flight to Atlanta for a game with Hank Aaron a home run away from breaking Babe Ruth’s career record.. First I’m going to Replica Oakleys start with about a quarter can of oats, go ahead and get cheap nfl jerseys those ready to get mixed up. Next I’m going to throw in one can of creamed corn on top of these oats and then go ahead and mix that up really well. As a haze of confusion continues to permeate circumstances surrounding the tragic incident, a priceless lesson should be kept in mind. For husbands, think a million times before getting involved in an extramarital affair.

Alternatives to Sex

Stephen McCauley
Simon & Schuster, 2006
$24 (hardcover); $14 (paperback)
By Keven Renken
For better or worse, Stephen
McCauley will always be known as the
author of The Object of My Affections.
That’s what having your fiction
debut turned into a 1998 big-screen
movie starring Jennfer Aniston will do
to a guy.
But McCauley is more than the
sum of his parts. In five novels starting
in 1988, he has built a career on
chronicling the lives and loves of the
late 20th-century gay everymale. And
even though his work is remarkably
short on the AIDS-related grief that dominates the work of
many of his fellow authors, he nonetheless remains a witty
and often astute observer of human nature.
With Alternatives to Sex, McCauley firmly entrenches us
in the 21st century and casts a clever, Oscar Wilde-esque
eye on the ever-changing relationships between men. Yes,
we’re talking about the internet, and the eminent hookups
made there-on. William Collins, the seeker of the aforementioned
alternatives, is a gay real-estate agent in Boston
who’s closer to fifty than he cares to admit. Online, however,
he assumes the name of Everett and has been engaged for the
past year in a bout of computer dating (a euphemism for brief
sexual encounters) that is clearly going nowhere.
Off-line his life is hardly more fulfilling. His sales figures
are disappointing (“You’re gone, William. . .I can’t find
you,” his boss says at one point) and his tenant, a passiveaggressive
artist with the unlikely name of Kumiko Rothberg,
has only paid rent twice in the past eighteen months. His
good friend Edward, a flight attendant haunted by the
specter of 9/11 – the tragedy replaces AIDS as the pall cast
over everyone’s lives – is a potential boyfriend, but neither
can get past the sarcasm long enough to be sincere with
one another.
Into this maelstrom of an existence enters Charlotte
O’Malley and Samuel Thompson, comfortably well-off, notso
comfortably married, and “not looking aggressively” for
the ideal city apartment. What begins as a simple desire to
score a sale soon begins to fill a void in William’s life, one
that is lacking in proper human connection. This connection,
obviously, should include Edward. What is obvious
isn’t always easy, however, and William has miles to go
before he can accept some kind of commitment in his life.
What remains amazingly fresh about McCauley’s writing
after twenty years is that he manages to take readers in ever
more surprising directions, even if the road he’s traveling
seems to be all too obvious. From the first mention of
Edward, for instance, it’s apparent where this is all headed.
The fact that the area remains grey makes the novel more
a mirror of real life than a fiction with a happy Hollywood
ending. Perhaps this is McCauley’s answer to the cinematic
Affections. Or perhaps he is simply reminding us that life
has no clear resolution of its own and simply goes forward,
lessons learned or not.
It’s a pity that the object of William’s affections is
probably the least interesting person in the book. There are
any number of characters who flirt with cynicism – an often
sodden Charlotte being one of them – but they also have
abundant amounts of charm and insightful interaction with
William. Edward often comes across as simply bitter and
a bit of a nut-job – at one point William has to go retrieve
him after he has something resembling a nervous breakdown
– and the fact that so much time is spent pining over
him almost amounts to skimming material. Likewise, it
must be difficult to keep the tongue planted in the cheek
for so much of one’s career, and in some places McCauley’s
humor seems a little cliché and forced. At one point,
William, commenting on a trick’s nice apartment, says, “On
the whole, I’m much less judgmental about a person’s
sexual interests than I am about his window treatments.”
Nonetheless these are small things in the bigger scheme
of having a very enjoyable read over the course of 289
pages. McCauley has no pretensions to telling the stories
of our lives in the age of the AIDS cocktail – he is not so
much interested in the larger tragedy as in the smaller
portions of sadness that populate are our lives as our hearts
beat, break and heal again. In the meantime he also makes
us smile, and that is in and of itself no small achievement.

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