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Alternatives to Sex

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  677 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
The bestselling author of The Object of My Affection and True Enough delivers his most compelling and richly observed novel to date with this portrait of one man's search for the holy trinity of modern life -- true love, good sex, and great real estate.

Stephen McCauley's new novel is a moving and hilarious chronicle of life in post-traumatic, morally ambiguous America wh
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published March 28th 2006 by Simon & Schuster
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Rating details
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Aug 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stpehen McCauley writes perfect "sit down with a fun book" reads. What a shame that something he clearly puts a lot of effort into flies by so quickly.
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Collins from Somerville, MA is a single, gay, 44-year-old realtor who has fallen into a funk of online sexual encounters. Seeking a more productive way to occupy his time, he enters (or disrupts, rather) the life of potential homebuyers, Charlotte O'Malley & Sam Thompson, a suburban couple suffering from empty nest syndrome. As William becomes more of a fixture in their lives, he inadvertently neglects his best friend, Edward, a panic-attack-prone flight attendant so desperate to cur ...more
I have always found Stephen McCauley's books to be enjoyable, witty, lightweight reads. William is a real estate agent with a bit of an internet hook-up sex hobby on the side. He is crushing on a married couple who are his latest bickering clients looking for a home, but may actually be in love with his best friend who has decided to move out of town and get a fresh start. Fun and easily digestible, it's one of those perfect books to read just before bedtime.
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Humorous with some astute observations on the state of marital relationships but a somewhat lacking plot and unsatisfying conclusion.
May 30, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A light summer read.
That's what I was after.
And, while this book is certainly light, it was not the engrossing read I was hoping for. In fact, it seems a bit inept.

The writer is clearly fond of his own character ideas, but he should weed them out ... then flesh them out. Far, far too many characters, most of them two-dimensional exaggerations of what an actual person might be, populate this meandering and aimless novel. I'm not sure there was a point ... ? There are a lot of scenes with upper-mi
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the fact that reviewers here don't seem too jazzed about this book, I enjoy the little observations and witticisms. Real estate agent William Morris is a comfortable-in-his-skin neurotic who is an endearing if passive, middle-aged gay man in Boston.

Mostly it's about a man that wants to change, but isn't sure why or how, and through a friendship/real estate relationship with a married couple it seems he might come to some catharsis at some point.

I'm already half-way through so it might s
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not totally bad but not memorable or interesting if one looks at the general picture.
Sinead McEvoy
It was a different read from what I'm used to but nevertheless I kept reading until the end. I felt a bit short-changed storyline wise and the end was rather unsatisfying. William's character should have been developed much more particularly in relation to his 'friendship' with Edward. Also I had high hopes with the introduction of Charlotte and Samuel and their potential love triangle with William that was never explored but hinted at.....shame
Lydia G
May 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was not as good as Insignificant Others in my opinion. I really liked the characters and McCauley's witty writing is wonderful. Unfortunately this book feels very rushed at the end and leaves some plot points open that I wish would have been cleared up. I loved Edward's character and wish he got more page time, I also thought the relationship with Dieter was confusing and didn't add much to the story.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un roman qui décrit avec mordant l'après 11-Septembre, et ses effets sur la société bostonienne, avec cynisme et beaucoup de réalisme. Les personnages sont crédibles, ce qui fait la force de la plume de McCauley. Grâce à cette écriture qui nous happe, on a envie de savoir ce que deviennent les personnages au fil des pages, même si la fin se devine très tôt dans le roman.
Random: the comment about not having taste but opinions about others at the bottom of page two made me say "hah" and then suddenly think about how this book was so "American", it just popped into my head that American books always have their books, heroes, whatever take themselves as important, British seem the very opposite - hence they have a great impact on me, and Americans often don't. Of course that can't be right, it was just a disconnected pseudo-epiphany, but I wonder if even About A Bo ...more
Jun 12, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
Fiction. 44-year-old William lives in Boston, sells real estate, and is maybe in love with his best friend Edward. So, disclaimer, I found The Object of My Affection so boring I had to read it twice, just to make sure it was actually as bad as I remembered. It was. But in my unrelenting optimism (evident only here, in the part of me that deals with books), I decided to give McCauley another chance.

I liked this book much better! It has no chapters, only titled section headings, which gives it a
If this book were a film, it would be a RomCom starring Hugh Grant as the lovable misanthrope-bachelor who is just too eccentric and bemused to recognize that True Love is staring him in the face. Alternatives to Sex is a quick, mostly enjoyable read, but very thin soup, and McCauley’s obvious pleasure in his own irrepressible drollery more than occasionally overwhelms the reading: There are only so many clever, self-referential doses of post-modern irony that a reader can take before the urge t ...more
Eh. Very light style writing, which is fine. Set in Boston, which is super fun for me. But the main themes/plots are perilously underdeveloped. It's all there, it just evidently needed a massive rewrite and fleshing out that it never got. The love story between William and Edward never really happens. It's all William thinking about it, but somehow realizes it without the aid of a major come to Jesus moment so how do you believe it? I mean, I know what the come to Jesus moment is supposed to be, ...more
Nov 19, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book started out on a good note. That was the best part.The characters were introduced, and by the end of the book we learn pretty much nothing about them. There is a couple that fights and is looking for a house, the main characters tennant, and a few other characters that had storylines that never went anywhere. The entire storyline is pretty weak. The main character doesn't have many likeable characteristics. His goal is to become abstinent, and...wait for it...he can never accomplish th ...more
Jul 08, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
So, this was my venture into the fiction realm. This was a recommendation from the Book Swapping website underneath Gay Literature. But seriously, it could have been about any type of sexuality and still have been boring.

Set in the aftermath of 9/11, the main character William Collins a 44 year old Gay man who currently works in Real Estate, has a cleaning obsession and no steady relationship starts worrying about his life. The past year of his life has consisted of any number of meaningless sex
"Alternatives to Sex" is a likable middlebrow gay novel, set in Boston shortly after 9/11. The central character, William Collins, is a middle-aged realtor, single, who at the outset of the book makes a half-hearted commitment to celibacy. The plot follows Collins' professional life as much as his personal one. Really, this is as much an example of the "real estate" genre, as Collins is shown making several lucrative deals involving a variety of colorful characters. If you've ever fantasized abo ...more
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
That it took me about five months to trod through this novel probably says something about what I thought of it.
Though I did find the writing at-times clever, smart and funny, I never seemed to connect with the characters. It was almost as if there's was too much to their backstory that I didn't know, and didn't come to realize.
I would have liked to have known more about Edward and his personality. William's character could have done a better job at revealing these things...

And since part of
Jun 29, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel -- about being over-40 and struggling with how to be, as a secondary character says, "at the center" of your own life rather than "outside" of it -- could be so much more than it is. Already, it's frank, funny, and observant. The narrator's social commentary is right on. Furthermore, the pace is lively; scenes are short and the narrative never drags. That's good, right?

Yeah, but the liveliness is also at the heart of the problem with this novel: It doesn't, until the final scene, take
I'm a fan of the fucked up character and this novel's star attraction, William Collins, is definitely one. When he's not trolling the Internet for cheesy hotel hookups with other men, little Willy is obsessing over ironing and the cleanliness of his surroundings. So the novel starts out in a predictably fun for me way. Are men or drugs the answer after all? However, while little snatches of genius like "'re nearing forty. Just ride it out and do what everyone else does: get your teeth whi ...more
Mark Farley
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The proof of this book came into the shop and I noticed the Armistead Maupin quote on the front of the book and it gathered dust on my radiator for about a few months before I finally decided to take it on my first ever beach holiday. Being a huge fan of the author's Tales of the City series, it was always something in the back of my mind I should get around to reading but was forever bumped down the list by other things I felt I should read or wanted to read. I was extremely surprised, after I ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Stephen McCauley, author of books including The Object of My Affection (1987), has written perhaps his best novel to date. A mix of satire, moral ambiguity, and insight into human foibles, Alternative to Sex also contains raw nakedness as William searches for meaning in his life. William's characterization as a softhearted, sharp-witted, and neurotic gay man__and his touchingly chaste relationship with Edward__rang true with critics, as did the "loony and delicious" cast of secondary characters

William Collins, single, 43, Boston real esate agent, and addicted to tricking via the internet decides that that last thing might be a bad thing. His attempt to go cold-turkey is a massive failure, but one of the alternatives he tries to distract himself with leads him to discover that, like Dorothy, his heart's desire was always within reach. That aspect of the story is sweet and fun. However, the novel uses the events of 9/11 and how everyone said it made them realize how fragile life was and ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-fiction
Meet William Collins, single man-about-town, real estate agent, compulsive cleaner and striving (ever so unsuccessfully) to be celibate. William's current downfall stems from nightly refuge in internet chat rooms, to which he succumbs without too much of a fight, and is complicated by an on/off relationship with a mysterious Belgian. William's best friend Edward remains unimpressed, tossing off acerbic bon mots at will. William finds himself in some interesting situations; his relationship with ...more
Jan 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this a while ago, so can't write a detailed review, but I remember it being witty, loaded with social commentary and very polished and well-edited. It's sad to see how many people here didn't take it seriously. I picked this book up spontaneously at a thrift store, because the cover reminded me of a chart we had in high school Health Ed "Things to do instead of doing it." It did not disappoint. Since then I fell in love with McCauley and read most of his other works, but this one's still ...more
David Jay
William is a middle aged realtor in Boston, struggling to make sense of life in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In spite of that very serious sounding description, the book is a mostly lighthearted piece of fluff. William struggles to deal with his emotions--by cleaning obsessively, by engaging in meaningless sex with strangers he meets in chat rooms (the book takes place in 2002 after all), by becoming celibate. There is a wide cast of supporting characters, some more successful than other ...more
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I wasn't reading it, I wanted to be. William and his acquaintances were very interesting because no two were the same but all had the common thread of lying or half truths in their lives. I loved reading about a main character that was gay without that being what the story was about. William has many a conquest but it's not explicit or a main thread, it's just as much of his life as cleaning is. I wanted to see more with his progression with Edward because that relationship is his most impo ...more
Post 9/11 slice of life novel. William, a middle aged gay man can't seem to find a purpose in his life. Selling houses and apartments in Boston doesn't fill his soul, nor does trolling the internet in search of one night stands. This is a first person account of his day to day life, his friends, his clients. His clients are the best parts of the novel. How William tries to «analyze» his clients, the university professor/writer, the middle aged couple in crisis. The rest is pretty much like watch ...more
May 06, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one unfortunately
The topic of sexual addiction is definitely loaded, and kudos to McCauley for exploring it. I just can't remember coming away with much when I finished the book. There is one sensational chapter that precisely paints the numb, and automatic quality that frequent anonymous sex can encourage. But a few sharp observations and scattered laughs aren't enough to lift this beyond the realm of slight diversion.
Jul 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this would be a perfect beach read, and it started out strong. However, the book dragged for me. I don't really "get" the significance of Charlotte and Samuel in William's life other than C triggering the perfectly-wrapped-up ending for William.

Enjoyable, but maybe could have been shorter or boasted a better plot.
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