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You Only Call When You're in Trouble
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2024
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Publishers Weekly Review
In McCauley's entertaining if overlong family saga (after My Ex-Life), a 30-something Chicago professor reckons with personal drama amid a professional crisis. Cecily, the subject of a Title IX case involving a student named Lee, receives an invitation from her mother Dorothy to visit her in Woodstock, N.Y. (Dorothy has attempted to lure Cecily by saying she's finally ready to share the truth about Cecily's paternity.) On the way, Cecily sees her uncle Tom, Dorothy's brother, an architect and a surrogate father figure who looked out for Cecily when she was growing up with a single mother. Although Tom is struggling from a recent breakup and being forced to compromise on his newest architectural design, he welcomes her in Boston. Cecily happens to run into Lee at the airport, and Lee, who's fixated on Cecily, claims that she wasn't the one who lodged the complaint. Eventually, the story winds its way to Woodstock, where Dorothy makes some late-breaking yet unsurprising revelations. The dialogue is breezy, and Tom and Cecily are rendered dynamically, but McCauley loses focus in the overstuffed plot. This has its moments, but it's not the author's best. (Nov.)
Booklist Review
Professor Cecily is in trouble. Her college has launched an investigation to determine if she kissed one of her (female) students, as the student claims. Meanwhile, the harridan mother of her lover, Santosh, has dedicated her life to destroying their relationship. And Tom, Cecily's gay architect uncle, is in trouble, too. His partner has left him, and the most important project he's ever worked on--a guesthouse, his masterpiece--is in jeopardy, along with his job. As for Cecily's loopy mother, Dorothy, she, too, is in--well, you get the idea. The course of these anxious lives is the stuff of McCauley's (My Ex-Life, 2018) new novel, which is sure to remind jaded readers of the undivided pleasure of reading a splendid book: every page pleases. The story is beautifully written and replete with laugh-out-loud pronouncements ("It sounds like music they'd play at a Swiss clinic for assisted suicide") and aphorisms ("True monogamy on the part of man was as rare as true veganism"). Add to this fully realized, empathic characters (well, a few of them are real stinkers), and you have an unmitigated delight and a book that you'll hate to see end.
Kirkus Review
Another chronicle of modern disappointments and their occasional consolations from a master of the modern social novel. There are four main characters in McCauley's latest: Cecily, an academic embroiled in an investigation at her university; Tom, her gay architect uncle, also facing career trouble; Dorothy, Cecily's ditsy mom; and the town of Woodstock, in which Dorothy is about to open a retreat center with a self-help author, a rather horrible person, natch. McCauley's descriptive gifts shine in his evocations of Woodstock, where "almost every storefront along the main street was decorated with wind chimes, prayer flags, colorful pennants, or loose, billowing clothes for sale" and "in the middle of the tiny town green…was a drum circle and a group of gray-haired people in unstructured cotton pants doing what looked like interpretive dance." His story, in which Cecily and Tom make a pilgrimage to the opening of Dorothy's "more intimate, more affordable Omega Institute" and which revolves, per his usual, around secrets in the characters' lives, gives him plenty of opportunities to do what he does best, which is make pronouncements. "No one can do 'whatever they want to do,' and probably no one should," he plangently informs us. "When someone starts by telling you you can do 'whatever you want,' they end up forcing you to do what they tell you." That seems reasonable, but the author also delights in less defensible assertions. "Academia was the one institution it was always safe to insult, no matter what the political persuasion of the person you were talking to. Like capers, it was universally disliked." The emotional heart of the story is the profound devotion Tom feels for his niece, which at the opening of the book has caused his longtime partner to throw up his hands and move out. Even if we never quite believe this, and even if some other plotlines are also a little hokey, you don't have to care much about plot to enjoy a McCauley novel. As the characters blunder about, the narrator is perfectly on his game. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary

"I don't think I will find a book I love more this year."
--Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author

"Funny, poignant, joyous, explosive, but most of all affirming of our connections to one another. You Only Call When You're in Trouble is a book to cherish. A book that loves you back. What more could you want, my gosh? Read it!"
--Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less Is Lost

Is it ever okay to stop caring for others and start living for yourself?

After a lifetime of taking care of his impossible but irresistible sister and his cherished niece, Tom is ready to put himself first. An architect specializing in tiny houses, he finally has an opportunity to build his masterpiece--"his last shot at leaving a footprint on the dying planet." Assuming, that is, he can stick to his resolution to keep the demands of his needy family at bay.

Naturally, that's when his phone rings. His niece, Cecily--the real love of Tom's life, as his boyfriend reminded him when moving out--is embroiled in a Title IX investigation at the college where she teaches that threatens her career and relationship. And after decades of lying, his sister wants him to help her tell Cecily the real identity of her father.

Tom does what he's always done--answers the call. Thus begins a journey that will change everyone's life and demonstrate the beauty or dysfunction (or both?) of the ties that bind families together and sometimes strangle them.

Warm, funny, and deeply moving, You Only Call When You're in Trouble is an unforgettable showcase for Stephen McCauley's distinctive voice and unique ability to create complex characters that jump off the page and straight into your heart.

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