The Object of My Affection

( 4 )

Overview

George and Nina seem like the perfect couple. They share a cozy, cluttered Brooklyn apartment, a taste for impromptu tuna casserole dinners, and a devotion to ballroom dancing lessons at Arthur Murray. They love each other. There's only one hitch: George is gay. And when Nina announces she's pregnant, things get especially complicated. Howard -- Nina's overbearing boyfriend and the baby's father -- wants marriage. Nina wants independence. George will do anything for a little unqualified affection, but is he ready...
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Object of My Affection

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Overview

George and Nina seem like the perfect couple. They share a cozy, cluttered Brooklyn apartment, a taste for impromptu tuna casserole dinners, and a devotion to ballroom dancing lessons at Arthur Murray. They love each other. There's only one hitch: George is gay. And when Nina announces she's pregnant, things get especially complicated. Howard -- Nina's overbearing boyfriend and the baby's father -- wants marriage. Nina wants independence. George will do anything for a little unqualified affection, but is he ready to become an unwed surrogate dad? A touching and hilarious novel about love, friendship, and the many ways of making a family.

The author of The Easy Way Out presents "a very funny, exceptionally vivid first novel" (New York Times Book Review). When George is kicked out by his lover, Robert, he moves into the terminally disordered apartment of Nina--and into the most complicated relationship of his life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
People Joyously comic...shimmers with hope, humor, and compassion.

The New York Times Book Review Very funny, exceptionally vivid....Surely one of best books about what it is like to be young in these crazy times.

Los Angeles Daily News Charming and affecting...The strong plotting, memorable gallery of characters and wry look at the complicated state of relations between the sexes could beguile any reader from Bensonhurst to Burbank.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the gently comic story of two insecure young people who share a Brooklyn apartment: a gay man and a pregnant woman who are both on the brink of financial and emotional disaster. PW found the first novel ``leisurely and meandering,'' its characters ``vibrant'' and ``charming.''
Library Journal
George is a gay kindergarten teacher who has just broken up with his lover. Nina is a lonely psychologist, in-between lovers, who needs a roommate. When George moves in with Nina, the two develop a satisfying friendship that survives all challenges, until the day Nina announces she is pregnant. Should Nina marry the father? Should George help her raise the baby or flee this frightening responsibility for life with a new lover in Vermont? Though the situation is interesting, both Nina and George are too vague and disorganized to fully engage the reader's sympathies. This first novel shows some nice touches. A good comic portrait of the baby's father, scathing commentary on a private kindergarten for young yuppies but ultimately it disappoints. A marginal purchase. Beth Ann Mills, New Rochelle P.L., N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671743505
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 6/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,432,119
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen McCauley

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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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Nina and I had been living together in Brooklyn for over a year when she came home one afternoon, announced she was pregnant tossed her briefcase to the floor and flopped down on the green vinyl sofa.

"As if I don't have enough problems with my weight already," she said, draping her feet across the worn arm rest.

I was sitting at the makeshift table on the opposite side of the room reading the World War I diaries of Siegfried Sassoon and eating a fried-egg sandwich. I had a Glenn Miller album on the record player, filling the room with bright music that suddenly sounded inappropriate. "String of Pearls," I think it was. Nina's lower lip was thrust out but I couldn't tell from her expression if she was genuinely upset, so I used my standard tactic for dealing with anything unexpected: I changed the subject. I pointed out a water stain on the hem of her dress and passed her half the sandwich.

"We're out of catsup," I apologized.

"I'm out of luck, Georgie," she said, biting into the toast and showering the floor with crumbs.

It was late in the afternoon on a hot, muggy August day, a sweltering day that felt like a concentration of all the fetid air of the summer. I'd pulled down the shades earlier and the apartment was dark, and except for the record player, the persistent sound of a radio blasting on a street corner somewhere, and the upstairs neighbors, carrying on their daily dinnertime brawl with their teenage daughter — quiet. The place was no more or less cluttered and disorganized than usual, but somehow the combination of the heat and Nina's announcement made it seem squalid. Her soft blond hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat and her cheeks were flushed a Crayola shade of pink. She looked so young and cherubic, so completely unchanged from the way she always looked, that I, in my general ignorance of pregnancy, felt sure she must have been mistaken about her condition.

She sat up on the sofa and raked her hair off her forehead with her vermilion fingernails. The eight silver bracelets she always wore slid to her elbow with a clank. Perhaps she was suffering from heat exhaustion. The idea that someone who'd spent a good portion of her life crusading for reproductive rights should be unintentionally pregnant sounded crazy to me.

"Maybe I should drag out the air conditioner," I said, glancing toward the closet where it had been stashed since the day I moved in.

"Oh, please, George, let's not go through that routine. I'm not in the mood for it tonight."

I often brought up the subject of the air conditioner when the temperature climbed over eighty, but neither Nina nor I could ever face installing it, especially in the heat. Actually, the air conditioner was only one home improvement we never got around to making, the closet also contained an unassembled bookcase, towel racks for the bathroom, a new light fixture for the hallway, and a couple of extension cords for a twin lamp set we'd never bothered to plug in.

The record player shut off with a loud, springy clunk and the room vacuumed in the noises from every corner of the neighborhood. At least the brawl on the third floor was winding down. I attempted a furtive glance at my watch. My friend Timothy had arranged a blind date for me and I knew it was getting time to change my socks.

Nina caught me rotating my wrist in slow motion.

"Do you have plans for tonight, Georgie?"

"Of course not. When do I ever? Do you want to go out and get something to eat?"

"I don't suppose you feel like going dancing?"

"Dancing? Dancing?" I could see Nina in the middle of a dance floor clutching her abdomen in pain while a red strobe light flashed relentlessly on her face. I have a secret passion for tabloid stories of babies born in astrodomes in the middle of rock concerts, but I wasn't interested in being the midwife in attendance. "Maybe we could do something a little more sedentary?"

"I'm not about to go into labor if that's what you mean."

"I'm not that stupid, Nina. Disco or ballroom?" We did both styles, gracelessly.

"Something noisy, I think."

"Hetero or homo?" We alternated, depending on who wanted to be noticed and who wanted to be left alone.

"Homo," she said emphatically. "Definitely homo. We can go to that Mafia-run joint out in Bensonhurst."

She went to the window and lifted the plastic shade and a shaft of bright and hot sunlight cut across the linoleum floor and touched my foot. A strong smell of garlic and burnt coffee wafted in on the closest thing to a breeze I'd felt that day. There was a gentle stirring in the stale air of the room as she stared out past the fire escape to the crisscross of wires and laundry fines that hovered over the gardens and statuary in the backyards — tightly packed rows of tomato plants and lush grapevines, Saint Anthony statues and Virgin Mothers in pastel-blue niches.

At that time, Nina was working for subsistence-level wages at a walk-in women's center in Clinton Hill counseling battered wives and rape victims. She was a psychologist. Or, as she often reminded me, almost a psychologist. She'd completed her course work at a clinical psych program out on Long Island and had been attempting to finish her dissertation for over a year. Her subject was the relationship between class background and identification with feminist politics and the perceptions of self-blame in female victims of violent crime. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. Among other things, Nina identified herself as a feminist. She was always trying to reconcile her politics with her psychoanalytic training, and I thought the whole conflict was limiting her ability to get anything done in either field. But I've never had faith in politics or psychology so I kept my mouth shut.

She let the shade drop against the sill and folded her aims across her chest as if she were suddenly chilled. "Oh, God," she sighed, "what are we going to do about this baby business?"

I cleared my throat and straightened up on my chair. Nina and I included each other in all of our daily travails, but in this ease I was only too eager to assert my complete lack of responsibility. I've never had anything to do with the propagation of the race. "Have you told Howard yet?" I asked.

"Howard?" She started to laugh, a little hysterically, I thought. "Howard? Why on earth would I tell Howard?"

"Well," I said priggishly, "he is the father, isn't he?"

"'The father.' It sounds so serious. Of course he's 'the father,' George. Who else would be 'the father'? You'd know if there was another candidate for 'the father.' But I don't tell him everything. I don't tell him every move I make. I don't report to Howard each time I go shopping at Key Food. There are some things I don't tell Howard." She was ranting. "I just found out about this this afternoon and I haven't had time to think. I haven't had time to consider it at all. I certainly don't need Howard confusing the issue. You know how opinionated he is."

"I'd forgotten. Pretend I didn't mention it."

"Anyway," she said looking up shyly, "I wanted to tell you first."

She stood there surrounded by the yellow light leakIng in around the edges of the shade and shrugged wearily, and I felt my chest collapse in on my lungs. I got up from behind the arrangement of packing crates and plywood we used as a table, nearly knocking the whole mess on the floor, and put my arms around her. I was obviously the kind of person who could offer a friend in need nothing more substantive than half a fried-egg sandwich.

"I'm sorry, Nina," I said. "I'm a jerk, that's all. You know what a jerk I am."

"Don't get on that track, Georgie."

"It's true. I'm an inconsiderate heel. I just thought of myself first as usual. I didn't even ask you how pregnant you are."

"Seven weeks," she said softly.

I don't know why, but I was cheered by that. It sounded so minor and insignificant. "But that's nothing. Seven weeks isn't bad at all."

"You're right," she said, laying her head on my shoulder, "seven weeks isn't bad at all."

When I said I'd never had anything to do with the propagation of the race, I didn't mean to imply I'm not interested in children. Most of my waking hours were, in fact, spent with five-year-olds. I was teaching kindergarten at an Episcopalian-affiliated school in Manhattan which catered to the underprivileged children of the Upper East Side's young professional two income families struggling to get by on a hundred and fifty thousand a year. It was a good teaching job — I was making close to twelve grand — but no one really considers teaching kindergarten a suitable job for a twenty-six-year-old male. People often responded with empathy and concern when I told them what I did for a living, as if they felt sorry for my lack of ambition, as if it weren't by choice that I spent my days mopping up vomit and blowing soap bubbles or whatever it was they imagined I did.

As Nina and I were getting dressed to go out dancing, I recounted the day's events for her. She was always interested in my students and their families due to her fascination with the pathological, and besides, she obviously needed some distraction to take her mind off her pregnancy. I told her that, among minor disasters like the school director testing the boiler at noon when the temperature outside was ninety (an exaggeration, but she loved stories that proved the ineptness of authority figures), Melissa, the woman I co-taught with, had gravely insulted one of our students when he quizzed her on the significance of the Feast of the Assumption.

"Feast of the Assumption?" Nina called from her room. "What kind of a question is that for a five-year-old to ask?"

"Well, his parents are breaking up. The father's Jewish and the mother's Catholic, and I think she's trying to convert the kid before the divorce goes through. He knows the religious holidays inside and out. Anyway, Melissa told him she couldn't keep track of all those martyrs ascending and descending as if they were on an escalator at Macy's. I think Clifford had a crise de foi. He was inconsolable. We had to call his mother to come pick him up."

"That's Melissa's fault," Nina shouted to me. "You don't think she's on drugs, do you?"

"Oh, no," I called back. "Melissa's too inconsistent to have a drug habit. Anyway she's usually very, considerate of the kids. I think she was done in by the heat."

Nina wandered into my room looking dazed and vigorously beautiful. She was wearing a tight black skirt and an ancient peach-colored blouse made of deteriorating silk. Despite the fact that I'd seen her every day for over fourteen months, I'd never quite gotten over my amazement at how beautiful she was. There was a flawlessness to her features I found captivating at certain times and infuriating at others. I alternated between marveling at her and feeling she'd unfairly received more than her share of good looks. Her efforts at dressing up all her secondhand clothes to look as if they'd been designed expressly for her was another quirk that raised skeptical eyebrows among her political friends.

"What happened when the mother came in?" she asked, toying with a sash she'd tied around her waist.

"Another disaster. I think the woman's losing her mind. She started lecturing Melissa on the breakup of the American family, when she's the one getting divorced. Poor Melissa's not even married. Just because she has red hair she wears in a crew cut, parents think she's immoral. And the mother is in therapy, Nina. She's been in therapy for years now and she just gets crazier."

She ignored me and leaned toward the mirror over my bureau and examined her face. "Do I look like I'm falling apart?"

"Don't be silly," I said. "You look like a cross between a Polish peasant and a Scandinavian film star."

It was the combination of her delicate blond hair, her light blue eyes, her wide cheekbones, her excessive use of eye makeup, and her natural Infant of Prague complexion. Even the extra pounds she carried around looked great on her they filled her out to a flawless voluptuousness you never see on those pale models who get paid a thousand dollars a day for refusing nourishment.

I put on a turquoise shirt I often tried on but had never had the bad taste or courage to wear out of the house. "Don't you think my face looks grotesquely florid in this color?" I asked.

"You're being ridiculous," she said, fastening and unfastening the top buttons of her blouse.

"Like an alcoholic's face." I took off the shirt and tossed it on the pile beside my bed. "I must have had a fever when I bought that thing."

She pulled the blouse out of her skirt and tied the ends together in a knot at her waist. "I thought you said Joley gave you that shirt."

Joley was the man through whom we'd met, a man I'd lived with for close to a year.

"You're right, Nina, he did. When you're right you're right, and you're right. I must have forgotten."

"I doubt it, George. That's my professional opinion."

I changed into a navy blue jersey with a hole under one arm and a pair of jeans which, like every pair of pants I own, were baggy in the rear end. Generally I look much better in dark colors than loud, cheerful ones; they blend with my coloring and my personality. From my mother I inherited brown eyes, pale skin, and heavy eyebrows that grow close together in the middle. From my father I inherited unmanageable black hair, a long, narrow nose, an absence of buttocks, and a tendency toward maudlin ruminations. I'm no one's idea of handsome, but in the right clothes and the right light I can look stylish in a disheveled, vulnerable sort of way. I think I'm most attractive to towering men with loud voices who like to throw their weight around. Just my type, in other words.

By the time Nina and I had finished dressing, we were overheated and exhausted. The sweat stains under the arms of her peach blouse looked like bruises. I went to the refrigerator and took out an open bottle of beer and a bowl of tomatoes our downstairs neighbor had brought up from her garden.

"Don't start eating or we'll never get out of here," she said as she came into the kitchen. She rummaged around the shelves, filled a bowl with Cheerios and powdered milk and ran it under the tap. "And listen, if Howard calls, tell him I'm not here. Tell him I went to the movies. You better say it was a double feature and I won't be in fill late."

"He isn't going to let me off that easily, Nina. He'll quiz me for hours."

"I know, but I can't face talking to him tonight. You don't mind lying for me this once, do you?"

We took our snacks into the living room and spread out on the sofa. I actually don't like tomatoes very much, but, next to popcorn, they're the best excuse around for eating immoderate amounts of salt, which is my favorite food. My technique is to dunk the tomato into a little dish of Morton's and then eat it like an apple. Nina shuddered every time she saw me take a bite — as if her cereal and powdered milk was so appetizing. She was in the middle of a battered Pocket Book edition of a mystery novel from the fifties with a picture of a naked woman wrapped in a Mexican blanket on the front cover. "Four Gorgeous Gals," it promised, "And Each of Them Spelled TROUBLE." This was Nina's kind of book — cheap sexist thrillers people gave away at stoop sales or threw out with the newspaper. As she sat reading she'd occasionally laugh aloud, give a cry of outrage and toss the book across the room in disgust, then hurry to retrieve it and find her place. I went into a stupor against her shoulder, my blood pressure soaring from the salt.

At ten o'clock the phone rang. Nina didn't stir.

"I'll bet school was absolute hell today, George, with all this heat."

It was Howard. Howard never began a phone conversation with anything as mundane as "hello."

"It wasn't the best day," I said, "but at least it ended. How are you doing, Howie?"

"Me? Great, George. Well, not great, but, you know...fine. So school was really okay?" Howard was committed to the idea of men being involved in child care. He saw my job as a profoundly political act, a contribution to the future of American society. I loved him for his misguided faith in me. "Things are really fine?"

"Sure, Howie. You'd know otherwise."

"I guess you're right. Listen, George, I don't want to cut this off, but let me talk to the Butterbean, will you?"

"The Butterbean isn't in. She went out. She went to a movie. I don't think she'll be back for a while."

"Oh? What movie?"

"I don't remember. Something in the neighborhood, something you've already seen. I'm sure you're the one who suggested she see it, that much I remember." Howard was so competitive he couldn't stand the thought of someone, Nina in particular, seeing a movie or reading a book or eating in a restaurant he himself hadn't experienced. He was happiest accompanying people to movies he'd already seen so he could sit and prod the person next to him and announce "a really great scene" that was about to come on. He was always dragging Nina and me to some restaurant he'd discovered a few days earlier only to despondently inform us the food wasn't as good as the last time he'd been there and the service had gone downhill already. "Listen, Howard, I have to go. I'm making pancakes and I don't want them to burn."

"Well wait, wait a minute. Hold on for just a minute." I heard a rustling of newspaper from the other end of the line and then the receiver banged to the floor. "Sorry, George. Okay, here we are...wait...it wasn't that new French movie about the mental institution, was it?"

"I don't think so. You know Nina hates to read subtitles."

"True, true, but maybe it's dubbed. I can call the theater."

"I really have to go, Howard. I can see the pancakes smoking right now. You know how they bubble and dry out and then they start to smoke?"

"Just one more second. Was it that new teenage science-fiction picture about the atomic cow?"

"Atomic cow? I doubt it."

"'Doubt it.' We'll check it off as a maybe. What kind of mood was she in? Maybe we can figure it out that way?"

Howard Lechter was a lawyer at a legal aid office in Manhattan who spent his days huddled over his desk writing criminal appeal briefs for juvenile delinquents. He took out his frustrated urge to badger a witness on the stand by cross-examining his friends in classic television courtroom style.

"I mean, if she was in a gay mood...I'm sorry, George, I meant happy...if she was in a happy mood she wouldn't go to that fifteen-hour German thing and if she was depressed..." He was struck silent by the thought. Howard worshipped Nina, "Was she depressed? I wonder if she was depressed and that's why she went to the movies alone. She did go by herself, didn't she? Don't tell me if she didn't, it's none of my business. Maybe she's angry with me and that's why she's depressed. I wonder what I did this time to get her angry?"

When I finally got off the phone I put on one of Nina's Connie Francis albums and jazzed around on the living-room floor for a while to try and remind her of the reason we'd spent an hour getting dressed. It was useless: Four Gorgeous Gals had her rapt attention. I crumpled on the sofa with a New Yorker and read the ten thousandth installment of someone's Third World childhood. An hour later the phone rang again. This time it was my friend Timothy.

"Where the hell have you been, George? I just got a call from Rudy who's been standing in front of the Waverly for the past two hours waiting for you to show up."

"If he was worth meeting, Timothy, he would have met someone else by now. Look," I said, lowering my voice so Nina couldn't hear me, "I had an emergency at home and I couldn't go anywhere, much less to a movie with someone desperate enough to agree to a blind date."

"You're hopeless, George. I just want you to know that. I set up something nice for you, go out of my way to set up something nice for you, and you blow it off. You do everything possible to avoid having a social life."

"I don't have the wardrobe for a social life. It's not my fault."

"I just called to tell you you're hopeless."

* • *

Around one o'clock, Nina read the last page of her mystery, gave a final cry of indignation and threw the book across the room once and for all.

"I don't know why I bother," she said, remorse wrinkling her forehead. "Did you really have your heart set on dancing?"

"I'll get over it. You're too exhausted to go anywhere, Nina." It might have been my imagination, but her face looked suddenly careworn.

"I feel like a wreck. Motherhood is taking its toll on me already."

Motherhood!

"Just get some sleep and you'll be fine," I said. Someone in the history of the human race must have slept off a pregnancy.

She went off to her room where she'd no doubt collapse on her bed fully clothed until I banged on her door in the morning. Nina had an immunity to alarm clocks; she set hers every night and then slept through the racket in the morning. Fortunately I'm an insomniac, so it worked out all right.

Motherhood. The word had a new, ominously personal meaning that made it sound heavy and alive, a word of power and complexity and several more syllables than I'd realized.

I stretched out on the sofa with a pillow under my head and listened to the train groaning over a bridge two neighborhoods away. A romantic salsa melody poured in from one of the windows across the backyard. I felt myself getting melancholy, as if I'd drunk too much cheap brandy. I gladly would have drunk too much cheap brandy if we'd had any on hand. I shut off the light behind my head and closed my eyes, imagining myself in San Juan in a seedy hotel room with a ceiling fan that didn't work. The hot, humid air was a stew of misleading sounds.

Summer was beginning to linger on too long, making the trees and gardens look unhappily overgrown, even in Brooklyn. I always look forward to autumn and the relief of Eastern Standard Time and, lying on the sofa listening to the sounds of the night, I yearned for a change in the season, an end to the heat. Who knew what could happen in the heat? Who knew what the distant sirens forbode?

Hours later I jolted awake to the sound of a car alarm blaring in the street. The sky outside the window was a sickly shade of orange, saturated with the city's electric lights and the glow of the approaching dawn. I'd been dreaming of a baby trapped in its crib, crying out for food, wailing in a hideous voice that now sounded suspiciously like the car alarm. My jersey was bunched up under my arms and I was sweating.

Motherhood!

My impulse was to get up and run down the stairs to the street and keep going. But I was too sunk in lassitude to even go to my bedroom. "You're being ridiculous, George," I mumbled aloud. I rummaged around on the floor until I found an unfinished crossword puzzle and a pencil. It's a myth that only organized people can find something when they need it. Joley was the most organized person I've ever met and he could never find a thing when he wanted it, a problem Nina and I never had.

I turned on the light behind me and wrestled with an incomprehensible list of crossword clues, trying to concentrate, trying to block out thoughts of Joley and motherhood and romantic salsas and city-bound trains passing fitfully in the distance, but the car alarm kept wailing in the street, crying out and reminding me of something I wanted to push out of my brain for the moment. There was nothing to do but stare out the window and wait for morning.

Copyright © 1987 by Stephen McCauley

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First Chapter

Nina and I had been living together in Brooklyn for over a year when she came home one afternoon, announced she was pregnant tossed her briefcase to the floor and flopped down on the green vinyl sofa.

"As if I don't have enough problems with my weight already," she said, draping her feet across the worn arm rest.

I was sitting at the makeshift table on the opposite side of the room reading the World War I diaries of Siegfried Sassoon and eating a fried-egg sandwich. I had a Glenn Miller album on the record player, filling the room with bright music that suddenly sounded inappropriate. "String of Pearls," I think it was. Nina's lower lip was thrust out but I couldn't tell from her expression if she was genuinely upset, so I used my standard tactic for dealing with anything unexpected: I changed the subject. I pointed out a water stain on the hem of her dress and passed her half the sandwich.

"We're out of catsup," I apologized.

"I'm out of luck, Georgie," she said, biting into the toast and showering the floor with crumbs.

It was late in the afternoon on a hot, muggy August day, a sweltering day that felt like a concentration of all the fetid air of the summer. I'd pulled down the shades earlier and the apartment was dark, and except for the record player, the persistent sound of a radio blasting on a street corner somewhere, and the upstairs neighbors, carrying on their daily dinnertime brawl with their teenage daughter -- quiet. The place was no more or less cluttered and disorganized than usual, but somehow the combination of the heat and Nina's announcement made it seem squalid. Her soft blond hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat and her cheeks were flushed a Crayola shade of pink. She looked so young and cherubic, so completely unchanged from the way she always looked, that I, in my general ignorance of pregnancy, felt sure she must have been mistaken about her condition.

She sat up on the sofa and raked her hair off her forehead with her vermilion fingernails. The eight silver bracelets she always wore slid to her elbow with a clank. Perhaps she was suffering from heat exhaustion. The idea that someone who'd spent a good portion of her life crusading for reproductive rights should be unintentionally pregnant sounded crazy to me.

"Maybe I should drag out the air conditioner," I said, glancing toward the closet where it had been stashed since the day I moved in.

"Oh, please, George, let's not go through that routine. I'm not in the mood for it tonight."

I often brought up the subject of the air conditioner when the temperature climbed over eighty, but neither Nina nor I could ever face installing it, especially in the heat. Actually, the air conditioner was only one home improvement we never got around to making, the closet also contained an unassembled bookcase, towel racks for the bathroom, a new light fixture for the hallway, and a couple of extension cords for a twin lamp set we'd never bothered to plug in.

The record player shut off with a loud, springy clunk and the room vacuumed in the noises from every corner of the neighborhood. At least the brawl on the third floor was winding down. I attempted a furtive glance at my watch. My friend Timothy had arranged a blind date for me and I knew it was getting time to change my socks.

Nina caught me rotating my wrist in slow motion.

"Do you have plans for tonight, Georgie?"

"Of course not. When do I ever? Do you want to go out and get something to eat?"

"I don't suppose you feel like going dancing?"

"Dancing? Dancing?" I could see Nina in the middle of a dance floor clutching her abdomen in pain while a red strobe light flashed relentlessly on her face. I have a secret passion for tabloid stories of babies born in astrodomes in the middle of rock concerts, but I wasn't interested in being the midwife in attendance. "Maybe we could do something a little more sedentary?"

"I'm not about to go into labor if that's what you mean."

"I'm not that stupid, Nina. Disco or ballroom?" We did both styles, gracelessly.

"Something noisy, I think."

"Hetero or homo?" We alternated, depending on who wanted to be noticed and who wanted to be left alone.

"Homo," she said emphatically. "Definitely homo. We can go to that Mafia-run joint out in Bensonhurst."

She went to the window and lifted the plastic shade and a shaft of bright and hot sunlight cut across the linoleum floor and touched my foot. A strong smell of garlic and burnt coffee wafted in on the closest thing to a breeze I'd felt that day. There was a gentle stirring in the stale air of the room as she stared out past the fire escape to the crisscross of wires and laundry fines that hovered over the gardens and statuary in the backyards -- tightly packed rows of tomato plants and lush grapevines, Saint Anthony statues and Virgin Mothers in pastel-blue niches.

At that time, Nina was working for subsistence-level wages at a walk-in women's center in Clinton Hill counseling battered wives and rape victims. She was a psychologist. Or, as she often reminded me, almost a psychologist. She'd completed her course work at a clinical psych program out on Long Island and had been attempting to finish her dissertation for over a year. Her subject was the relationship between class background and identification with feminist politics and the perceptions of self-blame in female victims of violent crime. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. Among other things, Nina identified herself as a feminist. She was always trying to reconcile her politics with her psychoanalytic training, and I thought the whole conflict was limiting her ability to get anything done in either field. But I've never had faith in politics or psychology so I kept my mouth shut.

She let the shade drop against the sill and folded her aims across her chest as if she were suddenly chilled. "Oh, God," she sighed, "what are we going to do about this baby business?"

I cleared my throat and straightened up on my chair. Nina and I included each other in all of our daily travails, but in this ease I was only too eager to assert my complete lack of responsibility. I've never had anything to do with the propagation of the race. "Have you told Howard yet?" I asked.

"Howard?" She started to laugh, a little hysterically, I thought. "Howard? Why on earth would I tell Howard?"

"Well," I said priggishly, "he is the father, isn't he?"

"'The father.' It sounds so serious. Of course he's 'the father,' George. Who else would be 'the father'? You'd know if there was another candidate for 'the father.' But I don't tell him everything. I don't tell him every move I make. I don't report to Howard each time I go shopping at Key Food. There are some things I don't tell Howard." She was ranting. "I just found out about this this afternoon and I haven't had time to think. I haven't had time to consider it at all. I certainly don't need Howard confusing the issue. You know how opinionated he is."

"I'd forgotten. Pretend I didn't mention it."

"Anyway," she said looking up shyly, "I wanted to tell you first."

She stood there surrounded by the yellow light leakIng in around the edges of the shade and shrugged wearily, and I felt my chest collapse in on my lungs. I got up from behind the arrangement of packing crates and plywood we used as a table, nearly knocking the whole mess on the floor, and put my arms around her. I was obviously the kind of person who could offer a friend in need nothing more substantive than half a fried-egg sandwich.

"I'm sorry, Nina," I said. "I'm a jerk, that's all. You know what a jerk I am."

"Don't get on that track, Georgie."

"It's true. I'm an inconsiderate heel. I just thought of myself first as usual. I didn't even ask you how pregnant you are."

"Seven weeks," she said softly.

I don't know why, but I was cheered by that. It sounded so minor and insignificant. "But that's nothing. Seven weeks isn't bad at all."

"You're right," she said, laying her head on my shoulder, "seven weeks isn't bad at all."

When I said I'd never had anything to do with the propagation of the race, I didn't mean to imply I'm not interested in children. Most of my waking hours were, in fact, spent with five-year-olds. I was teaching kindergarten at an Episcopalian-affiliated school in Manhattan which catered to the underprivileged children of the Upper East Side's young professional two income families struggling to get by on a hundred and fifty thousand a year. It was a good teaching job -- I was making close to twelve grand -- but no one really considers teaching kindergarten a suitable job for a twenty-six-year-old male. People often responded with empathy and concern when I told them what I did for a living, as if they felt sorry for my lack of ambition, as if it weren't by choice that I spent my days mopping up vomit and blowing soap bubbles or whatever it was they imagined I did.

As Nina and I were getting dressed to go out dancing, I recounted the day's events for her. She was always interested in my students and their families due to her fascination with the pathological, and besides, she obviously needed some distraction to take her mind off her pregnancy. I told her that, among minor disasters like the school director testing the boiler at noon when the temperature outside was ninety (an exaggeration, but she loved stories that proved the ineptness of authority figures), Melissa, the woman I co-taught with, had gravely insulted one of our students when he quizzed her on the significance of the Feast of the Assumption.

"Feast of the Assumption?" Nina called from her room. "What kind of a question is that for a five-year-old to ask?"

"Well, his parents are breaking up. The father's Jewish and the mother's Catholic, and I think she's trying to convert the kid before the divorce goes through. He knows the religious holidays inside and out. Anyway, Melissa told him she couldn't keep track of all those martyrs ascending and descending as if they were on an escalator at Macy's. I think Clifford had a crise de foi. He was inconsolable. We had to call his mother to come pick him up."

"That's Melissa's fault," Nina shouted to me. "You don't think she's on drugs, do you?"

"Oh, no," I called back. "Melissa's too inconsistent to have a drug habit. Anyway she's usually very, considerate of the kids. I think she was done in by the heat."

Nina wandered into my room looking dazed and vigorously beautiful. She was wearing a tight black skirt and an ancient peach-colored blouse made of deteriorating silk. Despite the fact that I'd seen her every day for over fourteen months, I'd never quite gotten over my amazement at how beautiful she was. There was a flawlessness to her features I found captivating at certain times and infuriating at others. I alternated between marveling at her and feeling she'd unfairly received more than her share of good looks. Her efforts at dressing up all her secondhand clothes to look as if they'd been designed expressly for her was another quirk that raised skeptical eyebrows among her political friends.

"What happened when the mother came in?" she asked, toying with a sash she'd tied around her waist.

"Another disaster. I think the woman's losing her mind. She started lecturing Melissa on the breakup of the American family, when she's the one getting divorced. Poor Melissa's not even married. Just because she has red hair she wears in a crew cut, parents think she's immoral. And the mother is in therapy, Nina. She's been in therapy for years now and she just gets crazier."

She ignored me and leaned toward the mirror over my bureau and examined her face. "Do I look like I'm falling apart?"

"Don't be silly," I said. "You look like a cross between a Polish peasant and a Scandinavian film star."

It was the combination of her delicate blond hair, her light blue eyes, her wide cheekbones, her excessive use of eye makeup, and her natural Infant of Prague complexion. Even the extra pounds she carried around looked great on her they filled her out to a flawless voluptuousness you never see on those pale models who get paid a thousand dollars a day for refusing nourishment.

I put on a turquoise shirt I often tried on but had never had the bad taste or courage to wear out of the house. "Don't you think my face looks grotesquely florid in this color?" I asked.

"You're being ridiculous," she said, fastening and unfastening the top buttons of her blouse.

"Like an alcoholic's face." I took off the shirt and tossed it on the pile beside my bed. "I must have had a fever when I bought that thing."

She pulled the blouse out of her skirt and tied the ends together in a knot at her waist. "I thought you said Joley gave you that shirt."

Joley was the man through whom we'd met, a man I'd lived with for close to a year.

"You're right, Nina, he did. When you're right you're right, and you're right. I must have forgotten."

"I doubt it, George. That's my professional opinion."

I changed into a navy blue jersey with a hole under one arm and a pair of jeans which, like every pair of pants I own, were baggy in the rear end. Generally I look much better in dark colors than loud, cheerful ones; they blend with my coloring and my personality. From my mother I inherited brown eyes, pale skin, and heavy eyebrows that grow close together in the middle. From my father I inherited unmanageable black hair, a long, narrow nose, an absence of buttocks, and a tendency toward maudlin ruminations. I'm no one's idea of handsome, but in the right clothes and the right light I can look stylish in a disheveled, vulnerable sort of way. I think I'm most attractive to towering men with loud voices who like to throw their weight around. Just my type, in other words.

By the time Nina and I had finished dressing, we were overheated and exhausted. The sweat stains under the arms of her peach blouse looked like bruises. I went to the refrigerator and took out an open bottle of beer and a bowl of tomatoes our downstairs neighbor had brought up from her garden.

"Don't start eating or we'll never get out of here," she said as she came into the kitchen. She rummaged around the shelves, filled a bowl with Cheerios and powdered milk and ran it under the tap. "And listen, if Howard calls, tell him I'm not here. Tell him I went to the movies. You better say it was a double feature and I won't be in fill late."

"He isn't going to let me off that easily, Nina. He'll quiz me for hours."

"I know, but I can't face talking to him tonight. You don't mind lying for me this once, do you?"

We took our snacks into the living room and spread out on the sofa. I actually don't like tomatoes very much, but, next to popcorn, they're the best excuse around for eating immoderate amounts of salt, which is my favorite food. My technique is to dunk the tomato into a little dish of Morton's and then eat it like an apple. Nina shuddered every time she saw me take a bite -- as if her cereal and powdered milk was so appetizing. She was in the middle of a battered Pocket Book edition of a mystery novel from the fifties with a picture of a naked woman wrapped in a Mexican blanket on the front cover. "Four Gorgeous Gals," it promised, "And Each of Them Spelled TROUBLE." This was Nina's kind of book -- cheap sexist thrillers people gave away at stoop sales or threw out with the newspaper. As she sat reading she'd occasionally laugh aloud, give a cry of outrage and toss the book across the room in disgust, then hurry to retrieve it and find her place. I went into a stupor against her shoulder, my blood pressure soaring from the salt.

At ten o'clock the phone rang. Nina didn't stir.

"I'll bet school was absolute hell today, George, with all this heat."

It was Howard. Howard never began a phone conversation with anything as mundane as "hello."

"It wasn't the best day," I said, "but at least it ended. How are you doing, Howie?"

"Me? Great, George. Well, not great, but, you know...fine. So school was really okay?" Howard was committed to the idea of men being involved in child care. He saw my job as a profoundly political act, a contribution to the future of American society. I loved him for his misguided faith in me. "Things are really fine?"

"Sure, Howie. You'd know otherwise." "I guess you're right. Listen, George, I don't want to cut this off, but let me talk to the Butterbean, will you?"

"The Butterbean isn't in. She went out. She went to a movie. I don't think she'll be back for a while."

"Oh? What movie?"

"I don't remember. Something in the neighborhood, something you've already seen. I'm sure you're the one who suggested she see it, that much I remember." Howard was so competitive he couldn't stand the thought of someone, Nina in particular, seeing a movie or reading a book or eating in a restaurant he himself hadn't experienced. He was happiest accompanying people to movies he'd already seen so he could sit and prod the person next to him and announce "a really great scene" that was about to come on. He was always dragging Nina and me to some restaurant he'd discovered a few days earlier only to despondently inform us the food wasn't as good as the last time he'd been there and the service had gone downhill already. "Listen, Howard, I have to go. I'm making pancakes and I don't want them to burn."

"Well wait, wait a minute. Hold on for just a minute." I heard a rustling of newspaper from the other end of the line and then the receiver banged to the floor. "Sorry, George. Okay, here we are...wait...it wasn't that new French movie about the mental institution, was it?"

"I don't think so. You know Nina hates to read subtitles."

"True, true, but maybe it's dubbed. I can call the theater."

"I really have to go, Howard. I can see the pancakes smoking right now. You know how they bubble and dry out and then they start to smoke?"

"Just one more second. Was it that new teenage science-fiction picture about the atomic cow?"

"Atomic cow? I doubt it."

"'Doubt it.' We'll check it off as a maybe. What kind of mood was she in? Maybe we can figure it out that way?"

Howard Lechter was a lawyer at a legal aid office in Manhattan who spent his days huddled over his desk writing criminal appeal briefs for juvenile delinquents. He took out his frustrated urge to badger a witness on the stand by cross-examining his friends in classic television courtroom style.

"I mean, if she was in a gay mood...I'm sorry, George, I meant happy...if she was in a happy mood she wouldn't go to that fifteen-hour German thing and if she was depressed..." He was struck silent by the thought. Howard worshipped Nina, "Was she depressed? I wonder if she was depressed and that's why she went to the movies alone. She did go by herself, didn't she? Don't tell me if she didn't, it's none of my business. Maybe she's angry with me and that's why she's depressed. I wonder what I did this time to get her angry?"

When I finally got off the phone I put on one of Nina's Connie Francis albums and jazzed around on the living-room floor for a while to try and remind her of the reason we'd spent an hour getting dressed. It was useless: Four Gorgeous Gals had her rapt attention. I crumpled on the sofa with a New Yorker and read the ten thousandth installment of someone's Third World childhood. An hour later the phone rang again. This time it was my friend Timothy.

"Where the hell have you been, George? I just got a call from Rudy who's been standing in front of the Waverly for the past two hours waiting for you to show up."

"If he was worth meeting, Timothy, he would have met someone else by now. Look," I said, lowering my voice so Nina couldn't hear me, "I had an emergency at home and I couldn't go anywhere, much less to a movie with someone desperate enough to agree to a blind date."

"You're hopeless, George. I just want you to know that. I set up something nice for you, go out of my way to set up something nice for you, and you blow it off. You do everything possible to avoid having a social life."

"I don't have the wardrobe for a social life. It's not my fault."

"I just called to tell you you're hopeless."

* * *

Around one o'clock, Nina read the last page of her mystery, gave a final cry of indignation and threw the book across the room once and for all.

"I don't know why I bother," she said, remorse wrinkling her forehead. "Did you really have your heart set on dancing?"

"I'll get over it. You're too exhausted to go anywhere, Nina." It might have been my imagination, but her face looked suddenly careworn.

"I feel like a wreck. Motherhood is taking its toll on me already."

Motherhood!

"Just get some sleep and you'll be fine," I said. Someone in the history of the human race must have slept off a pregnancy.

She went off to her room where she'd no doubt collapse on her bed fully clothed until I banged on her door in the morning. Nina had an immunity to alarm clocks; she set hers every night and then slept through the racket in the morning. Fortunately I'm an insomniac, so it worked out all right.

Motherhood. The word had a new, ominously personal meaning that made it sound heavy and alive, a word of power and complexity and several more syllables than I'd realized.

I stretched out on the sofa with a pillow under my head and listened to the train groaning over a bridge two neighborhoods away. A romantic salsa melody poured in from one of the windows across the backyard. I felt myself getting melancholy, as if I'd drunk too much cheap brandy. I gladly would have drunk too much cheap brandy if we'd had any on hand. I shut off the light behind my head and closed my eyes, imagining myself in San Juan in a seedy hotel room with a ceiling fan that didn't work. The hot, humid air was a stew of misleading sounds.

Summer was beginning to linger on too long, making the trees and gardens look unhappily overgrown, even in Brooklyn. I always look forward to autumn and the relief of Eastern Standard Time and, lying on the sofa listening to the sounds of the night, I yearned for a change in the season, an end to the heat. Who knew what could happen in the heat? Who knew what the distant sirens forbode?

Hours later I jolted awake to the sound of a car alarm blaring in the street. The sky outside the window was a sickly shade of orange, saturated with the city's electric lights and the glow of the approaching dawn. I'd been dreaming of a baby trapped in its crib, crying out for food, wailing in a hideous voice that now sounded suspiciously like the car alarm. My jersey was bunched up under my arms and I was sweating.

Motherhood!

My impulse was to get up and run down the stairs to the street and keep going. But I was too sunk in lassitude to even go to my bedroom. "You're being ridiculous, George," I mumbled aloud. I rummaged around on the floor until I found an unfinished crossword puzzle and a pencil. It's a myth that only organized people can find something when they need it. Joley was the most organized person I've ever met and he could never find a thing when he wanted it, a problem Nina and I never had.

I turned on the light behind me and wrestled with an incomprehensible list of crossword clues, trying to concentrate, trying to block out thoughts of Joley and motherhood and romantic salsas and city-bound trains passing fitfully in the distance, but the car alarm kept wailing in the street, crying out and reminding me of something I wanted to push out of my brain for the moment. There was nothing to do but stare out the window and wait for morning.

Copyright © 1987 by Stephen McCauley

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Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. The author presents many different living arrangements and definitions of family in the book. Which, if any, seem to work the best? What is he trying to say about the choices presented by modern life? How do you feel about his point-of-view?
  2. Money is a theme that runs through the novel. For example, George seems to be disturbed by the yuppie values that Paul's friends in Vermont have adopted. How else is George's attitude expressed? Why does George feel this way about wealth? Do you agree with him?
  3. Both George and his mother share a fear of flying, yet both manage to take a plane flight during the course of the novel. What does this fear, and the fact that the characters overcome it, symbolize?
  4. What characteristics do Nina and George have in common? In what ways are they different? Does their relationship have a positive or negative effect on their ability to form intimate relationships with other people?
  5. George and Nina take ballroom dancing lessons more than once during the course of the novel. What does dancing signify to them, and why does the author include these scenes in the book?
  6. George's family wants want him to pose as Nina's husband at Frank's wedding. Rather than do that, he misses the event. What do you think about his family's request? Do you think George made the right decision? What would you have done in the some situation?
  7. What do you think the chances are that George's family will come to terms with his homosexuality? Do you think that George's parents could ever accept Paul, Gabriel, and George as a family?
  8. Paul's mother is a former communist, andstill a political activist. Why does the author include her in the novel? What is the significance of her friendship with Nina, and the fact that she moves into Nina's apartment at the end of the book?
  9. Do you think the author believes people should stay together in relationships? Does he believe that they can they find happiness with each other? How do you feel about his point of view?
  10. The book ends with many questions left unanswered—whether George and Paul will stay together, for example, or if Nina and Howard will ever get married. What do you think happens to the characters after the last chapter?

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.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. The author presents many different living arrangements and definitions of family in the book. Which, if any, seem to work the best? What is he trying to say about the choices presented by modern life? How do you feel about his point-of-view?
  2. Money is a theme that runs through the novel. For example, George seems to be disturbed by the yuppie values that Paul's friends in Vermont have adopted. How else is George's attitude expressed? Why does George feel this way about wealth? Do you agree with him?
  3. Both George and his mother share a fear of flying, yet both manage to take a plane flight during the course of the novel. What does this fear, and the fact that the characters overcome it, symbolize?
  4. What characteristics do Nina and George have in common? In what ways are they different? Does their relationship have a positive or negative effect on their ability to form intimate relationships with other people?
  5. George and Nina take ballroom dancing lessons more than once during the course of the novel. What does dancing signify to them, and why does the author include these scenes in the book?
  6. George's family wants want him to pose as Nina's husband at Frank's wedding. Rather than do that, he misses the event. What do you think about his family's request? Do you think George made the right decision? What would you have done in the some situation?
  7. What do you think the chances are that George's family will come to terms with his homosexuality? Do you think that George's parents could ever accept Paul, Gabriel, and George as a family?
  8. Paul's mother is a former communist, and still a political activist. Why does the author include her in the novel? What is the significance of her friendship with Nina, and the fact that she moves into Nina's apartment at the end of the book?
  9. Do you think the author believes people should stay together in relationships? Does he believe that they can they find happiness with each other? How do you feel about his point of view?
  10. The book ends with many questions left unanswered—whether George and Paul will stay together, for example, or if Nina and Howard will ever get married. What do you think happens to the characters after the last chapter?
Read More Show Less

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley Nina and George

    The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley

    Nina and George have been living in an apartment in Brooklyn for over a year when Nina announces she's pregnant. The father is none other than her boyfriend, Howard.

    George Mullen came from Boston. He's currently a kindergarten teacher at St. Mikael's school and has broken up with his faculty adviser at Columbia, Robert Joley, with whom he lived for several months. George has a problem with any emotional involvement.

    Nina Borowski is the daughter of Polish immigrants and is a counselor at the local health center. She is almost a psychologist but needs to finish her dissertation. A feminist by definition, has problems with relationships and wants one with George, only because he's unattainable.

    Howard Lechter is a layer who is in love with Nina, wants to marry her, but can be a pain in the ass.

    The book, narrated in the first person point of view, is a collection of anecdotes of these principal and some secondary characters. There is no plot, and the climax - if you can call it that - is the wedding of George's brother in Boston, where his family can't deal with the fact that Nina is a single mother, or that George is gay. Frank tells his brother George: "Your friends might be a bunch of open minded liberals who don't see anything odd in your life-style, but believe me, it wouldn't make for a romantic evening for me to uncork a bottle of wine and tell Cici my brother is a homosexual. She's a sweet kid. She's the kind of girl who wouldn't understand what the word means." instead of a real climax, we end up with what George is best at - avoiding a confrontation. They don't go to the wedding and George realizes that he wants to be with his newest boyfriend, Paul, and not raise the kid with Nina.

    I bought the McCauley books because they were in the list of 100 best gay novels to read and was disappointed with both of them. I can't say i recommend them for anything other that a meaningless fluffy read....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2004

    TOO FUNNY and TOO TRUE a fun to read aloud story

    I've only read this book 5 or 6 times so I'm not sure I'm really qualified to review it BUT it's hilarious. If you like intelligent humor you will love all of Stephen McCauley's novels. He's a genius. His word choice is so precisely perfect, his similes are so appropriately amusing, his characters are so refreshingly REAL -- as in weak and defective -- you just adore them. This is a great book to read alone --you'll be howling with laughter and your eyes will water but it's so much fun you'll just be dying to share it . I recommend that you read it aloud to your lover. Male or female, gay or straight, everyone will get a kick out of this insightful so delightful book which is almost NOTHING like the MOVIE. The movie didn't capture the spirit of the story or get much of the plot or characters right either. Skip the movie, read the book. But I dare you to read it just once. IMPOSSIBLE!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2001

    McCauley knows his stuff!

    Stephen McCauley may not be Shakespeare, Thoreau, or even Steinbeck, but he manages to accomplish mroe than all of them combined with his brilliant characterizations! The main character, George Mullen, is so loveable, but he's not without his own little quirks (he's got a mean streak of masochism when it comes to relationships and his favorite food is salt). The relationships portrayed by McCauley continue to make me laugh, cry, and exclaim 'Well, ain't that the truth?!' every time I read this book- and I've read it a good many times! If you've ever fallen for your best friend; if you've ever questionedyour identity and lifestyle, or if you've ever wanted to step over the line of what's socailly acceptable, this is the book for you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2000

    AFFECTION GETS KICK ASS REVIEW

    I liked this book. To tell you the truth, I only liked this book because I loved this movie.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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