Book Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

THIS is the book review that I’ve been excited to write for weeks. Not just because the author is one of my favorite professors (hi Steve!) but also because My Ex-Life is a genuinely fantastic book. I stumbled across it while waiting for my fiancée at one of our favorite book shops and just from reading the first few paragraphs I was instantly hooked. The primary setting of My Ex-Life is summertime in the town of Beauport, Massachusetts, a fictional locale that has all the characteristics of the North Shore, including and especially the weather.

Filled cover to cover with humor, biting wit, and compassion, My Ex-Life generously but realistically tells the story of David Hedges, a man made uncomfortable by his life falling apart, and his unexpected reconnection to his ex-wife, Julie Fiske, who is in the middle of her divorce from her second husband and the college search for her daughter, Mandy. As it just so happens, the one area of David’s life that hasn’t crumbled (his younger lover has left him and his long-term lease is cancelled by his landlady because said lover and his new beau plan to buy the house) is his profession  helping high school students apply and receive admission to the school of their (parents’) dreams.

David somewhat-successfully escapes his own troubles by trading San Francisco for Beauport and his real estate problems with Julie’s. Her second husband, Henry, is determined to sell the house entirely instead of letting Julie buy him out, and she is having trouble scraping together the funds. As someone who is only just renting her own apartment for the first time, I greatly enjoyed this peek into the world of real estate, though I have no idea as to how accurate it may be. (See previous note about renting my first apartment as of July first). A constant point of fascination for me was the frequent reference to Airbnb, which I have never used, but feel that I know a great deal more about now that I have read this book.

The text exudes life experience, in that every emotion put in to the page  be it sarcasm or sincerity  is one that can be palpably felt, fully formed, as if the character was someone that we could meet on the street, or run in to at a bar. Even the secondary characters had the air of someone who could have a whole book written about them that would be just as riveting.

I wouldn’t say that I particularly identify with any of the characters, but I can empathize with Julie’s desperation at not wanting to lose her house, and appreciate how her marijuana habit plays in to her relationships in ways that at times seem helpful, but in the end are harmful. Similarly, I am not a gay man in my 50s, but David is easily the most empathetic character in the novel as he does his best to take care of everyone and help them to best succeed. For better or for worse, he is a man moved by his heart and prepared to make sacrifices for those that he cares about.

All that said, my favorite character is Mandy, a seventeen year old girl who is being pulled in to so many different directions that she falls prey to making bad decisions because at the very least they are hers to make.

My Ex-Life is a highly recommended read, and I urge y’all to get yourselves a copy.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

Book Review: When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

I will freely admit that romance novels are not typically to my taste. I don’t like romcoms, and my least favorite part of any book or movie is almost definitely the romantic subplot. That said, the often heteronormative plot of the majority of romances is what least appeals to me, not the concept of romance itself — which is to say, if something is gay enough I will definitely give it a chance. When Katie Met Cassidy was one of the books that popped up in my Book of the Month queue and it was the one I picked to have sent to my apartment this June.

I was slightly less than impressed with the character of Katie when I started the book, as I at first misjudged her as being the stereotypical incredibly sad and betrayed woman whose fiance dumped her for the best friend, who sat alone on the couch with comfort food – right up until she got annoyed with fitting into that stereotype and decided to take control of her night and took herself out to a bar. A series of fortunate events leads her to run in to Cassidy, a fellow lawyer who had sat opposite her in the boardroom as both parties negotiated a merger.

Both Katie and Cassidy are compelling characters, and my favorite feature of the book was that it was written from both of their perspectives, each chapter alternating which woman was the focus of the third person limited writing style. As I usually have little to no patience for romance, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Part of why I love reading so much is that it allows me to really get in to the head of the narrator, and so I tend to consider constant POV changes jarring when I am too involved in a novel. That said, I loved the changes in this book, because most scenes depicted in the book are actually told twice, from the perspective of both Katie and Cassidy. I am a strong proponent of the idea that everyone sees the world differently, and that a single interaction has as many legitimate perspectives as there are people in the room. As such, I deeply enjoyed the ability to see the development of Katie and Cassidy’s romance from both of their perspectives.

After so many years of reading YA novels where the characters are young and unsure, it was a breath of fresh air to read a romance between adults, aged thirty (Cassidy) and twenty-eight (Katie) respectively. There’s nothing wrong with YA novels, I adore them as much as the next millennial or gen Z reader, but reading the unfolding of a romance where the characters don’t live with their parents is something that I definitely need more of in my life. The best part about them being adults (in my opinion) is that all of the shyness that comes with the sexual experiences of younger people is gone. There are no blushing virgins in this book. The closest to that is Katie, who is unfamiliar with her own homerotic desire, and her naïvité is contrasted with the unapologetic nature of Cassidy, who is very much in-tune with her own sexuality and desires.

If you are looking for a quick read that includes a healthy but not intolerable dose of romance with a tad of drama that is very gay and has a happy ending, I can almost guarantee that you will like this book.

Happy reading,

Cheers,

Talia