However insightful, this fourth novel (following The Man of the House) dissecting the self-centered, shallow social artifice and snobbery of the great American middle class fails—by a whisper—to achieve the exquisitely fine-edged satirical tone that distinguished the author's brilliant earlier work. In the case of literature remarkable for its droll voice and delightfully empathetic characters, any shortcoming (however infinitesimal) is tantamount to discovering a zircon in a Tiffany setting. At 40, Jane Cody, a fading Boston public TV producer, frets as her long-running TV talk show loses viewers. She and her precocious, belligerent six-year-old son are both secretly in therapy, and her rebound marriage to a bland professor at a small liberal arts college has lost its zest. When her best friend—who married Jane's sexy, womanizing first husband—asks Jane to confront her ex with the friend's suspicion he is cheating, Jane gives in to her rekindled attraction to the ex and enters into an affair. Meanwhile, obscure NYC biographer Desmond Sullivan, suffering writer's block and a restless discontent with his five-year monogamous cohabitation with his gay lover, is looking forward to a much-needed, soul-searching sabbatical provided by a semester teaching in Boston with Jane's spouse. Each seeking salvation by collaborating on a TV biography of a minor, long-forgotten pop singer of the '60s, Jane and Desmond travel to a seedy seaside town on the Florida panhandle for taping just before a late season tropical storm is due. A not-so-surprising turn of events provides an equally predictable resolution. Loyal readers will miss the dead-on timing of McCauley's earlier novels. His insight into the small self-delusions that support satisfied lives is, however, as sharp as ever. Agent, Denise Shannon of ICM.(June)
Forecast:The author of The Object of My Affection has a franchise on wry, alternative-family dramas, and though his latest shows signs of strain, it should beckon to fans in search of light summer reading.