May 2018 Indie Next List
— Jordan Arias, Anderson's Bookshop, Naperville, IL
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Best Book of the Year: NPR, Shelf Awareness
“I didn't know how much I needed a laugh until I began reading Stephen McCauley's new novel, My Ex-Life. This is the kind of witty, sparkling, sharp novel for which the verb ‘chortle’ was invented.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“McCauley fits neatly alongside Tom Perrotta and Maria Semple in the category of ‘Novelists You’d Most Like to Drive Across the Country With.’” —The New York Times Book Review
David Hedges’s life is coming apart at the seams. His job helping San Francisco rich kids get into the colleges of their (parents’) choice is exasperating; his younger boyfriend has left him; and the beloved carriage house he rents is being sold. His solace is a Thai takeout joint that delivers 24/7.
The last person he expects to hear from is Julie Fiske. It’s been decades since they’ve spoken, and he’s relieved to hear she’s recovered from her brief, misguided first marriage. To him.
Julie definitely doesn’t have a problem with marijuana (she’s given it up completely, so it doesn’t matter if she gets stoned almost daily) and the Airbnb she’s running out of her seaside house north of Boston is neither shabby nor illegal. And she has two whole months to come up with the money to buy said house from her second husband before their divorce is finalized. She’d just like David’s help organizing college plans for her seventeen-year-old daughter.
That would be Mandy. To quote Barry Manilow, Oh Mandy. While she knows she’s smarter than most of the kids in her school, she can’t figure out why she’s making so many incredibly dumb and increasingly dangerous choices?
When David flies east, they find themselves living under the same roof (one David needs to repair). David and Julie pick up exactly where they left off thirty years ago—they’re still best friends who can finish each other’s sentences. But there’s one broken bit between them that no amount of home renovations will fix.
In prose filled with hilarious and heartbreakingly accurate one-liners, Stephen McCauley has written a novel that examines how we define home, family, and love. Be prepared to laugh, shed a few tears, and have thoughts of your own ex-life triggered. (Throw pillows optional.)
Praise For My Ex-Life: A Novel…
Praise for My Ex-Life:
An Indie Next List Pick for May
“One of the best books, as far as I’m concerned, this year is My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley. It is quirky and funny and beautifully observed.” —Jane Green on NBC’s Today Show
“Warm, very funny and observant…In his adroit and affecting new novel, My Ex-Life, he revisits the emotional territory of that first novel: the special closeness that may arise between a gay man and a straight woman.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A clever novel about exes reconnecting…Do not underestimate McCauley’s witty insights or his ability to make middle-aged, sexless companionship seem wildly appealing.” —People (Book of the Week)
“A charming slice of life about former spouses (one gay, one straight) on the other side of 50 who have been kicked around by life but find purpose when they reconnect in a seaside Massachusetts town. Laughs included.” —Entertainment Weekly
“With My Ex-Life, a heartwarming comedy of manners about second chances and starting afresh, he has pretty much outdone himself…McCauley fires off witticisms like a tennis ace practicing serves…In the vein of inveterate beguilers like Laurie Colwin, Elinor Lipman, and Maria Semple, McCauley is warm but snappy, light but smart—and just plain enjoyable.” —NPR.org
“My Ex-Life is a pleasure of the deepest sort—it’s a wise, ruefully funny, and ultimately touching exploration of mid-life melancholy and unexpected second chances. Stephen McCauley is a wonderful writer, and this may be his best book yet.” —Tom Perrotta, bestselling author of Mrs. Fletcher
“My Ex-Life is a rich, yet delicate ragout of wonderfully vivid characters, hilarious dialogue, and spot-on cultural criticism. It satisfies on every level.” —Richard Russo, bestselling author of Everybody’s Fool
“Before you read My Ex-Life, make sure the person you sleep with is willing to be woken constantly by your laughter. Stephen McCauley writes sparkling, graceful, witty prose with an ease and fluency that seems like sleight-of-hand. If I were the kind of reader who highlighted brilliant passages, the whole entire book would be underlined.” —Katherine Heiny, author of Standard Deviation
“From the first page of My Ex-Life, I was sending Stephen McCauley mental valentines and figurative fan notes, thanking him for this delicious, smart, funny novel, its endearing characters, and his wry, big-hearted cynicism. Oh, if all books could be like this one!” —Elinor Lipman, author of On Turpentine Lane
“My Ex-Life is Steve McCauley’s best novel so far—and that’s saying a lot. For those of us who devoured his previous books and eagerly awaited another, My Ex-Life is cause for celebration. McCauley’s trademark wit and cultural commentary is all here, as is a cast of smart, complicated, heart-sore characters…. You’re going to love My Ex-Life.” —Anita Diamant, author of The Boston Girl and The Red Tent
“This wonderful novel has its finger on the pulse of the present, but the questions it asks—about family and the ineluctable past and the strange, sustaining grace of friendship—are as timeless as the elegance and craft of its prose. Stephen McCauley is a master, one of our wisest and funniest observers of American life.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“McCauley delights with intimately, often hilariously observed characters and a winking wit that lets plenty of honest tenderness shine through. Readers will love spending time in these pages.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Wickedly funny…. For all the idiosyncrasies of McCauley’s creations, it’s likely many readers will see aspects of their own lives reflected in these pages.” —BookPage
“McCauley’s effervescent prose is full of wit and wisdom on every topic—college application essays, Airbnb operation, weed addiction, live porn websites, and, most of all, people....A gin and tonic for the soul.” —Kirkus
“This comedy of manners is a summery confection tinged with awareness of a coming autumn.” —Publishers Weekly
“It’s hard to convey the sheer joy of reading McCauley’s effervescent, penetrating prose that can be simultaneously hilarious and heart-breaking.” —Bay Area Reporter
“A smart, fun novel…McCauley…describes the characters’ evolving relationships with wit and warmth.” —AARP
“You can recognize great writers in their minor characters…Stephen McCauley belongs to an elite club of authors who create such memorable supporting roles, and in his latest, My Ex-Life, he serves up a narcissistic San Francisco real estate agent, a bitter, tourist-town shopkeeper, and an exotic next-door philanderer, to name just three.” —Chronogram
“Sardonic, wry and ceaselessly funny as it may be, My Ex-Life genuinely surprises as it progresses, accumulating tenderness, warmth and complexity, and providing some latitude for modest growth and underplayed epiphanies to all its vivid characters—even the most jaded, narcissistic and rapacious.” —Almanac Weekly
“His writing is an absolute delight…It’s one of those stories I love so much because it’s about the idea of who we surround ourselves with, the family we create, and all the different kinds of relationships we have in our lives and how wonderful and frustrating and heartbreaking and absurd they can be.” —WAMC’s The Roundtable
“McCauley has a remarkable talent for telling a story filled with insights into human behavior and laced with plenty of humor.” —Shelf Awareness
“Nothing is more satisfying, however, than what can be aptly described as a plain, old-fashioned ‘good read’, especially one as well-written as My Ex-Life from skillful storyteller and bestselling author Stephen McCauley.” —Lambda Literary
“Gentle, wise…this lovely novel…shows how, with some loving help, you can reset your life.” —The ARTery
“Together, this oddball group proves that a family can be a pot-smoking mom, a moody teen, and Mom’s gay ex-husband.” —Brit + Co
“Captivating…McCauley [presents] wonderfully distinctive and detailed people who are smart and funny. The observational aspects of the novel are so vivid that you are likely to race through the book in a few sittings.” —The Connecticut Post
“Sweet-but-unsentimental paean to altruism and friendship that gets to the heart of people, be they nice or nasty.... A tender, strikingly ‘true’ story that is warm, clear, and nuanced.” —Library Journal
“Funny, heartfelt, and utterly winning...” —Southern Living
“Interesting. And complicated. And hilarious.” —EW.com
“Divorce is the great reuniter in Stephen McCauley’s sharp, laugh-out-loud novel.” —Martha Stewart Living
“Everything you’ve heard (or read) about My Ex-Life (Flatiron, 2018), the acclaimed new novel by Stephen McCauley (of The Object of My Affection fame) is true; it’s subtly wicked funny and insightful…” —Baltimore Out Loud
“Summer reads don’t get much sweeter than this novel…McCauley charmingly juggles an assortment of funny, believable characters…as each, in their different ways, find their way home.” —The Seattle Times
“Reading My Ex-Life sometimes feels like a long and especially brilliant New York Times ‘Modern Love’ installment, full of modern twists and turns. But it’s more than that. It’s a provocative search for the essence of home—a village, a house, a community, a co-mingling of souls with certain affinities that somehow find each other and are fortunate enough to recognize what they have.” —Wicked Local
Praise for Stephen McCauley's Previous Works:
“Make no mistake: McCauley is a social satirist in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh and Oscar Wilde—and like them, he's a serious writer indeed.” —The Los Angeles Times on Alternatives to Sex
“Delightful...nearly perfect.” —Entertainment Weekly on Alternatives to Sex
“Stephen McCauley is really the secret love child of Edith Wharton and Woody Allen.” —The New York Times on The Easy Way Out
Flatiron Books, 9781250122438, 336pp.
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Did you read the book in print or on an e-reader? Did you listen to the audiobook? How might the experience of this novel have been different if you had chosen otherwise?
2. Which character was your favorite? Least favorite? Which character changed the most?
3. Who does “my” refer to in the title My Ex-Life?
4. In chapter 4, Mandy says “This was a bad idea and she knew it, but…she was pulled into it by an urge to find out what would happen that was stronger than the urge to listen to the voice telling her not to.” At times, Mandy and other characters seem to be acting out of step with their truest selves. Can you think of examples from the novel? What, if anything, sets them right? Do you see any parallels to your own life?
5. Julie’s neighbor Amira doesn’t hide her husband’s aim to take over the Fiske house to make a pool, while David’s flame, Kenneth, isn’t completely forthcoming about the Airbnb petition. And then there’s Renata and Mandy’s friend Lindsay. Would you rather have an honestly disloyal friend or a dishonestly loyal one? Who’s the best friend in the novel? Who is the worst?
6. McCauley has been praised for his (characters’) sometimes caustic witticisms, such as “Leonard doesn’t have friends. He has financial opportunities wearing socks.” (chapter 2) Did you have a favorite one-liner in this novel?
7. David reads E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels aloud to Julie both in their past life and their current one, and the book means different things then and now, but illuminates both times equally. Are there any books that provide such a touchstone for you?
8. David seems to object to his student Nancy’s stretching of the truth for her college application essay, but Nancy’s mom, Janine, shrugs it off. Should the truth ever get in the way of a good story?
9. In chapter 18, David presents Mandy with three essay prompts to sharpen her college application:
- “Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis, real or imagined.
- Dog and cat. Coffee and tea. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
- What is Square One and can you really go back to it?”
Pick one and answer it from your own experience. What do you think the novel’s answer to each questions is?
10. Do you agree with Julie’s decision not to tell David she was going to have an abortion? Did he have a right to know? Or did David cede that right by hiding his own secret from Julie?
11. Toward the end of the novel, in chapter 40, David and Julie have a long-deferred reckoning on the stairs. What do you think has greater power, the said or the unsaid? Does timing matter?
12. How has Mandy’s life changed as a result of what happened with Craig Crespo? Will she be able to get beyond it?
13. Does David save Julie or does Julie save David? Neither? Both?
14. “All couples start off as Romeo and Juliet and end up as Laurel and Hardy.” (chapter 25) True?
15. We can always deceive ourselves better than others can deceive us. Do you agree? What might the novel argue? (Consider: David’s sexual orientation; Julie’s marijuana habit; etc.)
16. In the past, McCauley has said he’s fascinated by the idea of chosen (as opposed to born) families. Which family in the novel strikes you as most true? What might your answer say about Family in our times?