The Man of the House

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The Man of the House is a novel about family values. It reflects the shifting notions of family that typify the last quarter of the twentieth century. Although its protagonist is a homosexual, The Man of the House is not a gay novel. Rather, it is a novel with a gay protagonist who, while finding sexual and emotional satisfaction in the gay world, functions freely in a largely heterosexual social milieu.

Separated from Gordon, his lover for more than two years, Clyde now shares an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Marcus Gladstone, a strikingly handsome ne’er-do-well in his mid- thirties who, like Clyde’s father, is “diligently heterosexual.” If Clyde was initially attracted by Marcus, he has now lost the lust for him he once harbored. Marcus, ten years beyond his doctoral coursework in psychology, has been unable for a decade to organize himself sufficiently even to begin writing a dissertation focusing on the significance of the frown in human relations.

Clyde, in essence, is academically somewhat like Marcus. He has made false starts toward graduate degrees in several fields, usually dropping out or changing schools and direction within a semester or two. His accumulation of credits in various august institutions of higher learning qualify him to teach such trendy courses as “Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage” at The Learning Place, a Chautauqua kind of non-degree-granting institution near Harvard Square.

Clyde’s family views him as a professor, as do some of his students, mostly middle-age people in the midst of personal crises. His father asks whether he has gotten tenure. Eileen Ash, his most cloying student, suggests that he looks tired and should request a sabbatical, obviously not realizing his part-time status in a marginal, unaccredited school.

Clyde and Marcus are both hangers-on, the sorts of aging, underemployed scholars who congregate in university towns. Clyde is rebounding from his fractured relationship with Gordon while simultaneously trying to establish with his grumpy father a relationship that, toward the end of the novel, he realizes will never materialize.

He finally has to concede that “Dad and I finished all our business years earlier; we had nothing left to resolve. It was simply a matter of learning to live with the resolution.” McCauley’s presentation of the father-son relationship reminds one of Robert Anderson’s detailing of similar situations in I Never Sang for My Father (pr. 1968) or Donald Margulies’ approach in such plays as What’s Wrong with This Picture? (pr. 1985) or The Loman Family Picnic (pr. 1989), which deal with father-son relationships more presciently than any recent drama.

McCauley presents three generations of the Carmichael family and the two generations that resulted from the Marcus-Louise coupling a dozen years earlier. It is interesting that the novel’s youngest characters, Ben, age twelve, and Barbara, age fourteen, are the most discerning and mature people in the book. Their insights are unrestrained by the inhibitions and courtesies that age often imposes.

Marcus, unable ever to sustain relationships, has begun many of them and uses their terminations as excuses not to pursue his dissertation research, the fruitful conclusion of which would pose for him the daunting dilemma of finding teaching in a tight job market. When Louise Morris returns to Cambridge on a grant from Radcliffe, she first contacts Clyde, despite her earlier affair with Marcus. Louise arrives with her twelve-year-old son and a dog, Otis, they found abandoned on their drive east.

Louise, a novelist, has fabricated for her son the story that he was sired by an Australian with whom she has lost contact, the second deception surrounding his birth. The first occurred when, immediately after her affair with Marcus, Louise went to France as an au pair in the family of a cuckolded French doctor.

When Louise discovered she was pregnant, she had an affair with the doctor, whom she then coerced into paying the bills for Ben’s delivery. She knew that Ben was Marcus’ son, but Marcus had no idea he is a father. When he finally learns this more than a decade after the fact, he agrees to talk with Ben about it, but he continually delays doing so. Meanwhile, his bright, insightful son detects the family resemblance and knows without being told who his father is.

Clyde is co-opted into looking after Otis, the dog the Morrises have brought with them. Their sublet does not permit animals. Ben comes by every day to walk the dog, and in doing so...

(The entire section is 1903 words.)