Stephen McCauley's first novel, "The Object of My Affection," introduced his version of the "Odd Couple": a gay man and a pregnant straight woman, both 20-somethings, sharing an apartment. Their connection struck a chord with readers, and with fans of the 1998 movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.
Another version of that relationship, with similar characters now in midlife, drives his seventh novel, "My Ex-Life" (Flatiron Books, 324 pp., $25.99). David and Julie were more than roommates — they were married. That ended when David realized he was gay, and now they've been out of touch for decades. They reconnect at a time in their lives when both have hit major bumps in the road involving real estate, another favorite theme of this novelist.
Judging from "My Ex-Life," McCauley also knows a lot about college application essays, Airbnb operation and weed addiction. We recently talked with him by phone about a few of these matters; for the rest, you'll have to come see him read at Quogue Library on Aug. 5. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
One of your main characters runs a struggling Airbnb, and she hires a consultant to help. Tell us about your expertise in this area.
For years, I haven't been able to write at home. At first I went to artist colonies, but I lost the will to keep meeting new people. So I started renting Airbnbs in small cities, working at the public library. Around the time this became too expensive, I realized it would be a good way to make money, so I started renting out a couple of properties I owned.
Though I never used a consultant, a huge culture was out there, charging for advice that's mostly common sense. One thing I had noticed in the Airbnbs I stayed in is they all had an enormous number of toss pillows, so many that I started taking photos and sending them to my friends. Along with pillows, Julie's consultant suggests she put floral slipcovers on the chairs.
Along with potpourri and quilted bedspreads, they're anti-erotic, and will save you from having to listen to your paying guests having sex.
Speaking of consultants, David is a college admissions consultant.
It astonishes me that the college application process has become so complicated, stressful and competitive. Working on essays with the kids of my brothers and a couple of friends, I gained insight into how they felt about their parents, what their family life was like. I wanted to give David a job that gave him access into private lives. Like a shrink. Sometimes, that's how I feel about teaching, and it's perhaps my favorite part.
Julie's teenage daughter Mandy came from observing students her age who have a wary relationship with social media. Also from the part of me that was deeply insecure and introverted while at the same time desperate to believe that I had some talent or special qualities that I hadn't yet figured out. This makes her vulnerable to the flattery of a man whose intentions aren't good.
As the critic Heller McAlpin put it, you fire off witticisms "like a tennis ace practicing serves." Most are not just laugh lines, but food for thought. "All couples start off as Romeo and Juliet and end as Laurel and Hardy."
That comes from my observation that longtime couples tend to make a comedy routine out of their disappointments. They perform it for their friends at cocktail parties to defuse the tension. "Can you believe we once thought we were made for each other?" "We haven't had sex in 20 years!" I think it's healthy, really.
Now that the Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to a comic novel about a gay man in midlife — "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer — could you be part of a "school" whose time has come?
While I loved "Less," I was surprised when it won the Pulitzer. Comic novels are not usually awarded literary prizes, unless they are written by Phillip Roth. Maybe it's our puritanical tradition: if it makes you laugh, it can't be serious. Actually, in the book I'm working on now, someone dies. I want to be taken seriously.
Does your new project also feature this gay man/straight woman thing? Is it autobiographical for you?
Yes . . . and, um, yes. I feel about it the way David does: "Men are just a better fit for me. Which is odd since I like women better as people and attribute most of what's wrong with the world to the stupidity and reckless behavior of men."
Stephen McCauley reads from 'My Ex-Life'
WHEN | WHERE Sunday, Aug. 5, at 5 p.m., Quogue Library, 90 Quogue St.
INFO $20 tickets can be purchased in advance; 631-653-4224, quoguelibrary.org