It's no mistake that Stephen McCauley's The Object of My Affection ends at a carnival, for the book is, shockingly enough, not about ballroom dancing or Jennifer Aniston's hair, but rather a funny, bittersweet rumination on the thrill rides we endure and the trick mirrors through which we peer, all in the name of relationships.
George is a gay kindergarten teacher, holding a torch of the inextinguishable variety for his not-worth-it ex-boyfriend. Nina is a pregnant "almost-psychologist" feminist with a nail-polish obsession and an overbearing boyfriend. The focus of the novel is certainly on the relationship between these two, but McCauley also brings an entire fictional ensemble to life, richly nuanced with quirky humor. After a night utterly devoid of sleep, romance, or even physical comfort on a stranger's futon, George decides to cut his losses and leave in the middle of the night, silently wondering about his generation's aversion to mattresses: "I've never trusted people who feel compelled to replace them with uncomfortable, expensive substitutes." As he leaves, his blind date caps off the evening with some unsolicited dietary advice, advising him that he should really cut down on dairy. "Thanks," George deadpans. "I've been meaning to eliminate it from my diet. This should give me the extra push."
The Object of My Affection gets you to care about this screwed-up lot of characters as they attempt to force the square peg of life-as-it-is-wished into the round hole of life-as-it-is. It offers no pat resolutions but rather an overall sense of hope, made all the more believable by the fact that the author has not frantically tried to tie up every single loose end. Instead, George, Nina, and those who touch them manage to push off from their unreasonably idealistic visions of the future and anchor, albeit tenuously, to the blessings of the present, resolved to remain standing amidst the forces that move them, as McCauley writes, "as inevitable as death and much stronger than love." --Bob Michaels [via]