STARRED REVIEW
May 2018

As we stumble along

By Stephen McCauley

Stephen McCauley’s bittersweet seventh novel gives the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pronouncement that there are no second acts in American lives. Because for all their missteps, the angst-ridden characters that populate My Ex-Life seem determined, in their endearingly flawed ways, to make the best of their unique circumstances.

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Stephen McCauley’s bittersweet seventh novel gives the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pronouncement that there are no second acts in American lives. Because for all their missteps, the angst-ridden characters that populate My Ex-Life seem determined, in their endearingly flawed ways, to make the best of their unique circumstances.

Most of the novel’s action unfolds in the slightly shabby seaside resort of Beauport, just north of Boston. It’s home to Julie Fiske and her restless daughter, Mandy, who’s on the cusp of high school graduation. In the midst of a fractious divorce and pressured by her husband to sell the rambling home they once shared, Julie reaches out to her first ex-husband, David Hedges, a college admissions consultant, in a desperate bid to help her daughter and bring order to the chaos of her life. David left Julie three decades earlier after discovering his true sexual orientation, and he now lives in San Francisco, where he faces his own real estate crisis—an impending eviction.

McCauley seasons the novel with a liberal helping of the anxieties of contemporary American life, chief among them upper-middle-class parents’ apprehension about their children’s futures and aging baby boomers’ regret that life’s brass ring will always be just out of reach. He excels in some wickedly funny scenes that depict Julie’s fumbling efforts to turn her home into an economically productive Airbnb, as well as a tender portrayal of the odd sexual tension that bubbles up during Julie and David’s reunion. They’re the sort of people who know their lives possess all the ingredients for happiness, but who seem to have lost the recipe. For all the idiosyncrasies of McCauley’s creations, it’s likely many readers will see aspects of their own lives reflected in these pages.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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My Ex-Life

My Ex-Life

By Stephen McCauley
Flatiron
ISBN 9781250122438

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