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McCauley, Stephen (b. 1955)  
 
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Novelist Stephen McCauley has been called a "master of the modern comedy of manners," and his works have been favorably compared to such temperamentally disparate social satirists as Edith Wharton, Evelyn Waugh, Woody Allen, and Barbara Pym, in whose stories, as the writer Robert Plunkett has noted, "ordinary, decent people struggle through the crises, major and minor, of everyday life."

Since the 1987 publication of his enormously successful debut novel, The Object of My Affection, which was later loosely adapted into a popular romantic comedy, McCauley has earned both critical esteem and a loyal readership.

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His books have been singled out for their shrewd observations about contemporary manners and morals, their tart, clever dialogue and gently ironic tone, as well as their sharply defined characters, particularly the slightly flawed but charming, self-deprecating gay male protagonists.

"I seem to write about characters who have misjudged their situation or misunderstood who they are and what they want out of life," McCauley revealed in an interview. "I don't like ending a book with the suggestion that a solution has been found and that everything is now going to be fine."

Stephen McCauley was born on June 26, 1955 in Woburn, Massachusetts, the middle of three sons.

He studied at the University of Vermont, in Burlington, and in France for a year at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, in Nice.

After graduating in 1977 with a B.A. in English, McCauley moved to Boston and took a series of jobs including teaching kindergarten, manning an ice cream stand, working at hotels, health food stores, a yoga center, and for many years at a travel agency. He was also the book review editor and a travel tips columnist for the alternative weekly newspaper The Boston Phoenix.

In the early 1980s, McCauley moved to Brooklyn, where he took several writing courses at adult learning centers, before enrolling in the writing program at Columbia University. In 1985, he graduated from Columbia with a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing.

Two years later, McCauley published his first novel, The Object of My Affection (1987), about the close relationship between George, a gay male kindergarten teacher, and Nina, a pregnant, single psychology student. As George, the novel's first-person narrator, explains: "I suppose the best way to describe our friendship is as a long and unconsummated courtship between two people with no expectations."

The novel started out as a short story, begun while McCauley was still a student at Columbia University. Stephen Koch, one of his teachers in the graduate writing program, encouraged McCauley to expand the story.

"It was the first time I ever wrote in a conversational style," McCauley recalled, "and it was the first time I tried using a tone intended to be comic. I wrote the story as a tribute to a woman with whom I'd had a short, very romantic friendship. But by the end of it, the characters had taken on lives of their own, and I found I wanted to spend more time with them. So I tossed a pregnancy into their relationship and kept writing to see what would happen."

Most reviewers responded enthusiastically to the novel. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the work "a very funny, exceptionally vivid first novel," and observed that McCauley "brings his characters, his world astonishingly, captivatingly alive."

The book was quickly optioned by the film studio Twentieth Century Fox, but it took some ten years before a movie version was released. In 1998, The Object of My Affection was loosely adapted into a skillful, if somewhat conventional, romantic comedy by the openly gay director Nicholas Hytner, based on a screenplay by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, and starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, with a cameo appearance by Sir Nigel Hawthorne.

McCauley has remained grateful, though characteristically detached, about the experience, explaining, "It's a great thing for getting your name and the title of your book into the public eye. It's the kind of publicity a writer of my level can't afford to turn down. . . . But in my mind, the movie is completely separate from my book. It's my book, but it's their movie."

In 1992, McCauley published his second novel, The Easy Way Out, another tale of modern relationships, which again comfortably embraced characters both gay and straight.

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Stephen McCauley. Photograph by Xavier Thomas.
  
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