Friday, October 29, 2010

Stephen McCauley writes a charming tale about playing with the truth.

After reading McCauley’s latest, I decided to go back and read a few from the last twenty-some years during which this novelist has been producing.

True Enough

True Enough (314 pages, Washington Square Press, $14) appeared in 2001. In it, McCauley tells the story of two frustrated middle-aged characters. Jane Cody is a producer in the fraught world of Boston Public Television. She produces a show that is called “The Conversation,” which mimics a dinner party in which guests discuss issues of pressing public importance. The show is a success, but still she has to scramble to get the right group together for each taping. She has an able—perhaps too able—assistant Chloe, who is always ready with suggestions and who seems vaguely prepared to disapprove of Jane’s last minute, frantic rush to pull things together.

Jane has a maddening young son, whom she loves, but who torments her with his long-suffering angst about experiencing the world. He already seems world-weary at six-years-old, and she is always looking for things to entertain him. Her loving second husband, whom she can barely tolerate, reminds her that their son is only six, but that isn’t the way she sees it. Jane is also emotionally, and at times even physically, involved with her ex-husband, but she is also in denial about how much that man means to her. She attends weekly therapy sessions, but she finds she can’t bring herself to tell the therapist what really is going on.

Meanwhile, Desmond Sullivan, a forty-ish gay man living in New York with a handsome and amusing lover, is having something like a mid-life crisis. He has written one successful biography of a mediocre celebrity, and he is halfway through another, on a singer known as Pauline Anderton. His trouble with this biography, along with some frustration in the relationship, which he hardly acknowledges, leads him to take a temporary teaching job in Boston.

Once in Boston, these two confused and misdirected characters meet, and each sees the other as the answer to the current dilemma. Jane thinks Desmond’s mediocre biography subjects might make a great TV series, and Desmond feels that TV might be the answer to all his feelings of being stuck. Of course, neither of these things is exactly true, but the two still help one another enormously.

Each gives the other the perspective needed to begin to cope. For Jane that means facing up to her unhappiness and recognizing how much her husband really loves her. For Desmond, self-acceptance means finding a way back to the partner he came close to abandoning in New York. It is not easy for either of these characters to get to this place, and McCauley tells a great tale of false starts and misdirections.
But in the end, everything works out very touchingly. These characters both recognize how much love they have in their lives, and that somehow gives them the energy to make sense of everything else.

Stephen McCauley

Get a copy of True Enough at Powell's, Vroman's or Amazon.

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