My Ex-Life (McCauley)

My Ex-Life 
Stephen McCauley, 2018
Flatiron Books
336 pp.

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 17-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.) (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 26, 1955
Raised—near Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B,A., University of Vermont; M.F.A., Columbia University
Awards—Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters (France)
Currently—lives near Boston, Massachusetts

Stephen McCauley is the American author of several novels, three of which have been adapted into film: one American and two French.

Life and career
McCauley was raised outside of Boston and went to public schools for his education. As an undergraduate, he attended the University of Vermont and then spent a year in France at the University of Nice.

McCauley worked a series of unrelated jobs including teaching yoga, working at a hotel, a kindergarten, and manning an ice cream stand. He worked as a travel agent for many years before moving to Brooklyn in the 1980s. There he attended adult learning centers to take some writing classes before enrolling in Columbia University's writing program. The writer Stephen Koch gave him the idea to begin work on his first novel.

That first novel, The Object of My Affection was published in 1987 and became a Hollywood film starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. Both his second and fouth novels were adapted into French films: The Easy Way Out, released in 1992, became L'Art de la fugue and True Enough, published in 2001, became La Verite ou Presque.

McCauley's stories, articles and reviews have appeared in Gay Community News, Bay Windows, Boston Phoenix, New York Times Book Review, Vogue, House & Garden, Details, Vanity Fair, Harper's, and Travel and Leisure, among others.

McCauley is an alumnus of the Ragdale Foundation.

Today, McCauley serves as the Co-Director of the Creative Writing program at Brandeis University. He is a Professor of the Practice of English Fiction. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/9/2018.)

Book Reviews
An irresistible doozy of a plot. 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…. Warm but snappy, light but smart—and just plain enjoyable.
Helen McAlpin -

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.

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

(Starred review) 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.

When midlife woes descend, a long-divorced couple find their paths merging again.… As always, McCauley's effervescent prose is full of wit and wisdom on every topic.… A gin and tonic for the soul.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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. Pick one and answer it from your own experience. What do you think the novel’s answer to each questions is?

  • 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?   

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 chapter40, 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 or false?

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 birth) families. Which family in the novel strikes you as most true? What might your answer say about the family in our times? 
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020