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Insignificant Others

Insignificant Others

3.2 24
by Stephen McCauley

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Richard Rossi works in HR at a Boston-based software company and prides himself on his understanding of the foibles and fictions we all use to get through the day. Too bad he’s not as good at spotting such behavior in himself. What else could explain



Richard Rossi works in HR at a Boston-based software company and prides himself on his understanding of the foibles and fictions we all use to get through the day. Too bad he’s not as good at spotting such behavior in himself. What else could explain his passionate affair with Benjamin, a very unavailable married man? Richard is also not entirely available himself—there’s Conrad, his adorable if maddening partner to contend with. But when Conrad starts spending a suspicious amount of time in Ohio, and economic uncertainty challenges Richard’s chances for promotion, he realizes his priorities might be a little skewed.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Narrator Richard and his partner, Conrad, are a well-adjusted gay couple living in Boston at “the end of the American Century” in McCauley’s adroit latest (after Alternatives to Sex). They have an understanding that allows for the occasional infidelity, but when Richard realizes that Conrad’s current fling may be luring him away, he begins to worry. It doesn’t help that Richard is becoming infatuated with his own insignificant other, Benjamin, who leads a double life as a supposedly happily married father of two. Richard’s problems, though, go well beyond his love life, and with a dry, caustic wit and the occasionally weighty social observation, he describes how he’s coping with his own exercise addiction, his suspicious sister, a client at work who may or may not be on the brink of going crazy, a friend who can’t bring himself to tell his wife about his health problems, and his deeply confused feelings about Conrad and Benjamin. But it’s an unlikely alliance with Conrad’s business partner and the slow unraveling of his problems that adds an unexpectedly and refreshingly sentimental dimension to this accomplished comedy. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A breezily funny, affecting tale by the author of the novel-turned-film The Object of My Affection, about the entanglements of a gay Bostonian facing a midlife crisis. Richard Rossi is a "psychologist by degree" working in the human resources department of a software company, Connectrix, who could use some counseling of his own. His partner Conrad, with whom he has lived for eight years in a Beacon Hill condo, has been secretly seeing someone else during his out-of-town trips as a consultant (he tells rich people what art work to hang in their homes). Richard's occasional lover, Ben, an architect with whom he sublets a studio apartment and thinks of as his real "husband," is spending more time with his wife and kids. At work, Richard is responsible for keeping a young hire from leaving Connectrix and for coaching a hostile supervisor involved in a discrimination suit. He also must soothe a resentful sister in Buffalo and provide support for a married friend with heart disease. Failing in his attempt to escape reality through daily visits to the health club, Richard is forced to confront his ideas about fidelity, obligation and fulfillment. An amiably rendered gay man's guide to contemporary life, this is a rare novel that details its characters' imperfections without imparting judgment. McCauley invests them with a romantic outlook that no amount of disappointment can diminish. A novel with pithy observations, lightness of touch and generosity of spirit.
From the Publisher
“The master of the modern comedy of manners.” —USA Today

“Charming…McCauley displays terrific comic insight about our penchant for denial while still revealing a great deal of compassion for human foibles.” Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

“A sparkling writer . . . he tosses off witticisms with the alacrity of a Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org

Insignificant Others is vintage McCauley, offering up the usual mixture of hilarity, pathos, irony, and regret. It’s The Office meets Jane Austen, with a twist.” —Mameve Medwed

“A novel with pithy observations, lightness of touch, and generosity of spirit.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.62(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt

Insignificant Others

A Novel
By Stephen McCauley

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2010 Stephen McCauley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743224758

Dinner and Monogamy

           When I learned that Conrad, my partner of eight years, was seeing someone on the side, I wasn't completely surprised. A couple of years earlier, I'd noticed that the word “monogamy” had fallen out of our vocabulary, and I assumed he had as many reasons for no longer using it as I did. Even though it's usually not acknowledged, at a certain point in most relationships discretion supplants fidelity as a guiding virtue.

           The slow, silent fade of monogamy in our lives reminded me of something that had happened with a particularly flavorful baked chicken dish we used to make. The chicken was spiced with cumin and ground caraway seeds, preserved lemons, and a handful of musky herbs I'd picked up at a Lebanese grocery store. It filled the entire apartment with a smell that was both exotic and homey, and it came out of the oven glistening, looking nourishing and vaguely pornographic. Conrad and I both liked it a lot—after the third or fourth year of cohabitation, it was among the few things we agreed upon wholeheartedly—and he or I ended up cooking it a couple of times a month. I took a great deal of comfort and delight in sitting across the table from him and talking in bland terms, like a long-married and slightly bored couple, about the honest pleasures of the meal. Then one day, I was rummaging around in the kitchen cabinets and came across the ground caraway seeds and realized that without discussing it or consciously crossing it off a list, we hadn't served it in over a year. I suppose both of us just got tired of the wonderful flavor. It happens.

           While we'd stopped using the word “monogamy,” significantly, we hadn't stopped using words of affection and fondness. We hadn't stopped saying “I love you” at the end of long-distance phone calls or when one of us was half asleep and wanted to signal the other to turn out the lights. Surely, those were the more important points. Conrad frequently traveled for work, and when business was good, he sometimes spent ten or more days a month out of town. How could I have been surprised that he had an Insignificant Other as a source of entertainment? There are only so many ways to amuse yourself in a hotel room, and Conrad had never been a big one for CNN.

           It was my own fault I learned about the I.O. Conrad had been striving for discretion. I was dashing around our bedroom stuffing my clothes into a backpack on a winter night, running late for an exercise class at one of the gyms I belong to, when I heard the buzzing of his cell phone. I was so shocked to realize it was on the bureau and not with him as it always seemed to be, and so distracted by my own uncharacteristic tardiness, I picked it up. There was a text message on the screen from an Ohio area code that read: Can't fucking WAIT for you to get here. Conrad was leaving for Columbus in two days. 

           Conrad Mitchell and his friend Doreen McAllister ran Mitchell and McAllister, a consulting business. They traveled to cities all over the country where there was lots of new money and an attendant lack of taste—they practically lived in Florida and Texas—and advised people building multimillion-dollar houses on the artwork they should hang on their expensive walls. I could understand a client being excited about acquiring a Warhol, but the caps, even more than the “fucking,” were a dead giveaway that the message was about something else.

          Because he traveled so much, and because he was a highly organized and precise person, Conrad kept a small suitcase packed with toiletries, handkerchiefs, and clean underwear in the closet. It was an expensive black leather item capable of consuming vast quantities of clothes and supplies without ever appearing bloated. It was aging well, too—in any case, better than I was. From where I stood at the bureau in our small bedroom, I could see the suitcase leaning against the paper-bag-colored wall. (Conrad had chosen a hypermasculine decor and color scheme for the bedroom, an example of protesting too much, I'd always thought.) Suddenly, the black valise had a malevolent appearance, like a slim priest who was hiding explosives under his cassock. 

          Conrad was at the dining room table organizing a portfolio by slipping photographs of paintings and expensive sculptures into plastic covers, his lank and pretty blond hair hanging across his face. I left the apartment without mentioning the text message, hoping he wouldn't be able to tell I'd seen it. I wasn't eager to admit I'd looked at his phone, and more to the point, I didn't want to open up a discussion that would make me late for class. After decades of perpetually running behind schedule by eight or ten minutes, I'd reset my inner clock a few years earlier and was now fanatically punctual. Being prompt is one of those lesser qualities—like sending thank-you notes, wearing deodorant, and tipping the mailman at Christmas—that you can will into being with a little discipline. They don't rank up there with Talent, Intelligence, and Goodness, but past the age of fifty, they become essential if you want to get invited to dinner parties or have your sagging jowls overlooked.

          No matter what, I was never late for exercise class. For about four years, I'd been struggling with a minor compulsion related to working out. At times it was a heavy burden, but it did have its advantages. Sneaking off to the gym six or more times a week to lift weights, take spinning classes, and listen to my personal trainer's relationship problems took up a lot of time I could have spent studying a language or reading George Eliot, but on the plus side, even at my fifty-something stage of life, I never had to worry about all the time it otherwise would have taken me to get back in shape.

          The gym I belonged to near the Beacon Hill condo Conrad and I shared—versus the one I belonged to near my office in Cambridge—was a grimy basement, and the spinning classes were held in a corner room without light or ventilation. I appreciated the darkness and the privacy it conferred. The only people who crow about spending as much time as I do exercising are the ones who never get off the couch. Those of us who can't stop ourselves tend to exercise furtively and try to pass off our lean bodies as the product of genetics. As I pedaled in the dark, getting nowhere, trying to tune out the shrill voice of the instructor and the thumping music that I liked to pretend I was speeding away from, I reasoned that I had little to worry about. Conrad's eager friend lived in Columbus. I'd been to Columbus a number of times and had nothing against the city, but knowing Conrad's limpid snobbery, I knew someone from there was not a threat the way a paramour from New York or Los Angeles would have been.


Excerpted from Insignificant Others by Stephen McCauley Copyright © 2010 by Stephen McCauley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen McCauley is the author of Alternatives to Sex, True Enough, The Man of the House, The Easy Way Out, and The Object of My Affection. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit his website at www.stephenmccauley.com.

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Insignificant Others 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
bookwoman More than 1 year ago
Insignificant Others by Stephen McCauley is the story of Richard Rossi who has a pretty comfortable life. A good paying if not too interesting job, a long term relationship with his partner and a bit on the side with a deeply closeted married man. When it begins to appear that his partner may also have a bit on the side, Rossi begins to question some of the "truths" of his life. Set in George Bush's America when there was just an uneasiness about the financial and employment markets and in the on-line work world where the generation gap is most evident, McCauley provides his usual insight into relationships and - in this case - into the world around those relationships. Written with his trademark wit and humor - there are descriptions you just have to read aloud - this is both a humorous and a very touching book. Stephen McCauley is one of my favorite authors and I think this is his strongest book to date.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Insignificant Others by Stephen McCauley Richard Rossi is psychologist working in the Human Resource Department of Connectrix, a software company. He is involved with Benjamin Lamartine, a bisexual married man, while in a seven year relationship with Conrad Mitchell. Conrad is partner's with Doreen McAllister and they own Mitchell and McAllister, a consulting firm that helps very rich people buy and display important pieces of art. Their work forces them to travel a lll over the country, so Richard and Conrad have a few insignificant others to entertain themselves while their partners are out of town. They have an “understanding.” Meanwhile, Conrad has an affair with Clarke, an older gentleman from Columbus, OH who is trying to buy him an art gallery so that Conrad move there with him. Clarke wants to move up from being insignificant to being significant. Richard is having issues with work. After a lawsuit involving one of Connectrix workers is filed. Richard has to manage the employees involved. It’s not going well and Richard is worried that his opportunity for a promotion is in trouble. Without any suspense, logic, or explanation, it all works our. Richard and Conrad stay together. They both break up with their "insignificant others," and things stabilize at work. The book is told from the first person point of view. As I was reading it, I felt I was being preached at. The author tends to psychoanalyze it’s characters so he’s constantly telling you things, instead of showing you things. There is absolutely no suspense - it’s like it has been told in a flat affect - and there is no climax. The main character has an obsession with working out and has issues about aging - probably the only redeeming quality of the work. Bisexuality and closeted homosexuals are discussed - Benjamin - in a as a matter of fact way. The issues of open gay relationships are also discussed, but I felt the book did not decide as to whether that was a good thing or not. The book is a very easy read, shallow and fluffy, but I don’t see it as being one of the best 100 gay and lesbians books ever written.
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MattCH More than 1 year ago
With Insignificant Others, Stephen McCauley gives us an interesting look at modern relationships, open secrets and the way that people's priorities get mixed up despite their best efforts to stay on track. The characters are all likable and feel genuine. Most importantly, the narrator's inner struggle comes across in a way that is very relatable.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel and I was suprised at the average reader rating. I believe the author writes very well and is able to "find" the characters. I felt like a new them after reading the novel. Of course, I could not say I knew their actions. The insights given in the novel are very good also and I thought a lot of them were true. So...if you want to read a well written novel and you have an interest in the area...I highly encourage you to do so as you will not be disappointed.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Interesting, too. It's not Ulysses, but it sure satisfied my need for a friendly novel to occupy my time.
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KatelynD More than 1 year ago
McCauley provides an engaging read in a novel strewn with striking witticisms, but certain aspects of the work make me wonder whether the author incorporate the protagonist's social observations into his structure or if the book's apparent inconsistencies and inertia are really just weaknesses. For example, does McCauley purposefully have the protagonist Richard Rossi only discuss the novel's action rather than confronting it actively as a demonstration of the interpersonal disconnect created by technology, or does the novel simply lack a plot? Just as Rossi pedals his exercise bike to nowhere, the novel's plot seems to only imitate action rather than create it. Rossi's psychological issues are also somewhat inconsistent. Because he suffers from both an exercise addiction and claustrophobia, he takes the stairs rather than the elevator a work. Later in the novel, however, he states that he prefers claustrophobic city architecture to wide open spaces. Is this a discrepancy or a demonstration of the character's confusion and complexity? While Insignificant Others provides enthralling commentary on the mental discontent created by modernity, McCauley's plot and characterization need polishing.
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