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Insignificant Others: A Novel [Hardcover]

Stephen McCauley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 8 2010
What do you do when you discover your spouse has an insignificant other?

How about when you realize your own insignificant other is becoming more significant than your spouse?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but Stephen McCauley—"the master of the modern comedy of manners" (USA Today)—makes exploring them a literary delight.

Richard Rossi works in HR at a touchy-feely 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 suggests birthday presents for Benjamin’s wife and vacation plans for his kids, meets him for "lunch" at a sublet apartment, and would never think about calling him after business hours.

"In the three years I’d known Benjamin, I’d come to think of him as my husband. He was, after all, a husband, and I saw it as my responsibility to protect his marriage from a barrage of outside threats and bad influences. It was the only way I could justify sleeping with him."

Since Richard is not entirely available himself—there’s Conrad, his adorable if maddening partner to contend with—it all seems perfect. But when cosmopolitan 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.

With a cast of sharply drawn friends, frenemies, colleagues, and personal trainers, Insignificant Others is classic McCauley—a hilarious and ultimately haunting social satire about life in the United States at the bitter end of the boom years, when clinging to significant people and pursuits has never been more important—if only one could figure out what they are.

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“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,

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

About the Author

Stephen McCauley is the author of five bestselling novels. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a lot happens... Oct. 14 2010
in Stephen McCauley's new novel, "Insignificant Others", but that's okay. His novels are small works of art, where character development is first and foremost. Richard Rossi, a 50ish gay man lives in Boston, with his "SO", Conrad, but he also has an "IO" (insignificant other) on the side. The "IO" is a married man who's torn between his love for his wife and family (and his position in society) and his sexual desires.

Richard is a man who keeps life at a distance. He has many friends, from all parts of his life - work, social, gym, family - so he has a social life, but he's a man who lives a lot in his mind. It's safer there; less real involvement with people and their problems. And the people in his life do have problems, many of which Richard feels compelled to help out with. He wants to help, but he doesn't want to be really involved, at least til towards the end of the book, where he realises his life would be better if he actually engages in it and makes some definite decisions. The ending is a little ambiguous, which is really okay.

McCauley is such a good writer that all his characters are interesting. Even the minor ones. That's a real writer's talent.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Navigating the boundaries of a gay LTR July 25 2010
By Bob Lind - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A psychologist by degree, but now employed in HR for a youth-oriented Boston software company, Richard Rossi is well aware of the frequent contradictions in the workplace between appearances and reality, of "playing" the rules rather than following them to the letter, and of embracing selfishness - to some extent - as a means of survival. These qualities are also a part of his personal life, having entered his 50's, stagnating in a long-term relationship with Conrad, a fastidious design consultant who travels a lot on business. This provides ample opportunities for Richard to get together with Benjamin, a closeted married man whom he has been seeing for some time. This "best of both worlds" proves to be far less, when Richard starts to fall in love with Benjamin, and also learns that Conrad has someone in Ohio, who has asked him to move there to be with him. At the same time, Richard's security at work is threatened by impending cutbacks, which gives him second thoughts about everything in his life.

I've enjoyed all of McCauley's books to date, and this one also has his trademark wit, along with an insightful and realistic character-driven story. Though some may perceive it as a bit negative, I see it as a good take on the "understandings" many of us use to define our relationships, since they generally lack legal boundaries or rules. Five touchy-feely stars out of five.

- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful! July 25 2010
By marguerite gieseke - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
From the very first mini-chapter... titled "Dinner and Monogamy",Insignificant Others was a fast, fun read that I would highly recommend.
The lead character Richard Rossi is kind and funny and has the quick wit of someone you wish you could be friends with...barring that, the next best thing would be to get lost in a novel alongside. Through Richard, Stephen McCauley writes of human faults and contradictions without judgment and instead with kindness and understanding. Fear is tempered with gentleness rather than anger along with the notion that gay or straight, we are all longing for acceptance and honesty and the loves that comes with it. All in all, Insignificant Others is a lovely read, and one that will not disappoint.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He is Back and He Has Something to Say Sept. 12 2010
By Ford Ka - Published on
McCauley is back with a new book and it is a good one.
Richard Rossi, a fifty-something fitness-maniac, an ex-psychologist who ended up as an HR manager in a software company seems to have made it. He has both a boyfriend called Conrad who is younger and natural blond (if you don't mind the highlights) and an insignificant other, Benjamin, he meets for sex on a fairly regular basis. The book traces a difficult year in the life of Richard which forces him to question what he used to find certain and important.
The plot is rather loose and you should not expect many big thrills here, the overall impression is rather of a chunk of life which had been going on before and will continue after you close the book. Richard temporarily loses and gets back his boyfriend, breaks up and gets back with Benjamin. Conrad tries to replace Richard with another sugar-daddy. An expected raise and promotion go to an unexpected candidate. Personal trainer quarrels with his crazy, drug-addict boyfriend. The cast of characters is quite impressive and McCauley is good both at inventing them and at them and at giving them life even if their part in the novel is quite small.
But it is not the plot that really attracted me to this book. McCauley is eerily successful in describing the US in 2006, two years into the second term of George W. Bush. The image he draws is extremely subtle, a remark here, a description there (take a closer look at the two fitness clubs and the virtual reality golf club!), but it is extremely convincing. On the surface it is a book about a successful gay man who is starting to lose it (his physical prowess, boyfriend, position at the company etc.) but on a deeper level it is a book about country which slowly falls apart at the seems. Somewhat scary but thought-provoking reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best work, but an enjoyable read July 23 2011
By Magnus Eisengrim - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is the slightest McCauley novel of the several I've read, but it is a McCauley novel. So overall it's readable and likeable, frequently funny, and sometimes sharply insightful. If you're a fan, you'll enjoy being back in McCauley's world. If you don't know his work, start with "The Easy Way Out" or "The Object of My Affection" instead.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not McCauley at his best, but still a good analysis of a relationship in trouble... Aug. 12 2012
By Larry Hoffer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Richard Rossi is at a crossroads in his life. He's pushing 50, but he's in the best shape of his life; he's in a long-term relationship, but they've never been particularly focused on monogamy; he (sort of) enjoys his HR job at a software company, but a few major crises have sprung up; and one of his oldest friends has a health crisis but wants Richard to share the news with his wife. And then Richard discovers that his partner may be more serious about a fling he's in the midst of, just at the same time Richard is struggling with his feelings about Ben, a married man that he has been seeing.

How Richard chooses to deal with all of the chaos in his life is at the crux of Insignificant Others. The only way Richard has ever been able to handle anxiety and stress is through exercise, but even that doesn't seem to provide the relief he needs. For the first time in his life he is being forced to take control and make tough decisions, and he isn't too sure he wants to.

I've been a big Stephen McCauley fan for years, but I'll admit this book isn't one of his best. Richard's indecisiveness and willingess to let everything unfold around him got frustrating after a while. As one character said to him, "if you never say what you want, if you never figure out what you want, you never have to worry about being disappointed in not getting it." I didn't feel as if any of the characters were particularly likeable, and while I was interested to see how the story unfolded, I found the ending to be the most intriguing piece of the book. I'm a little disappointed, since McCauley usually takes a few years between books. I'd definitely recommend you read Object of My Affection (much, much better than the Jennifer Aniston movie) or any of his other books instead of this one.
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