Cover Image: You Only Call When You're in Trouble

You Only Call When You're in Trouble

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As she has done her whole life, Cecily calls her uncle Tom whenever she is in trouble, and she’s sure in trouble now. She’s wrapped up in a Title IX investigation at the school where she teaches, sending ripples of complication through her career and relationship. Tom’s inability to say no to his niece has become a sticking point in his own relationship and his sister, Cecily’s mother, has been the definition of dysfunction her entire life. Things come to a head as they all come together and relationships fall apart, jobs are threatened and Cecily’s mother is finally planning to come clean about the identity of Cecily’s father.

This book is populated by realistic characters and real-world situations, and the heart of it can be summed up as ‘family dysfunction’. We all experience it in one way or another and these characters sure have their fair share. While I can’t put my finger on anything particularly spectacular about this story I found myself itching to pick it back up each time I put it down.

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-the detailed family drama will have you flipping the pages quickly
-humor is handled well
-the exploring of hire academia was interesting and detailed enough to be understood without feeling like we were simply being taught about it

-the pacing
-the character development

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I was somewhat familiar with the author - having seen the film adaption of his book "The Object of My Affection" that was released in 1998 and I absolutely loved. I had never read any of his novels until now and really enjoyed the story and characters. Each character has strengths, flaws, anxieties, and in the end it's about making your own family. It's about a brother and a sister and her daughter and how they learn to take care of each other through the roller coaster of life. The brother is the caring Guncle (Gay Uncle) who would do anything for his niece even if it caused conflict with his partner. It is about seeking love and validation and being true to yourself. There are very poignant and humorous moments in this book and I could not put it down. Since reading this book, I have purchased his previous novels and look forward to reading them as well. It's also about time I see the film again!

Thank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt & Company for an ARC and I voluntarily left this review.

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I was not familiar with this author but I was attracted to the colorful book cover and the intriguing title. So I was pleased to receive an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher through NetGalley. This is a slice-of-life, sometimes humorous saga of a contemporary dysfunctional extended family. It involves Tom, a somewhat successful architect with relationship issues of his own. He’s often called upon to aid his single-parent sister and her grown daughter. General fiction readers who enjoy situations of modern dysfunctional family ties may enjoy You Only Call When You’re in Trouble.

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You Only Call When You're In Trouble by Stephen McCauley drew me in right from the start. The characters were well developed and I found them to be quite interesting. The family dynamics and relationships is something that is believable and the messiness of their lives draws you in wanting to know more. There are multiple story lines that could make for an entertaining story on their own but all of the stories are connected and evolve over the years of the characters connections. Readers may pause to think of the messiness of their own families and friends as they may reflect on what they would or would not do to maintain the relationships. Definitely will recommend this book to others! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Published by Henry Holt and Co. on January 9, 2024

The literary market never tires of amusing domestic dramas about affluent people who live on the East Coast. You Only Call When You’re in Trouble is a novel of first world problems, the self-inflicted problems of upper middle class white people who have too much time on their hands. Yet the reader knows that everything will work out for most of them because, after all, that’s what happens to East Coast characters of comfortable means in amusing domestic dramas.

Cecily is 34. She teaches American Studies at a college in Chicago. It’s a tenure-track position and her class is popular because she shows a lot of videos. She has been in a relationship with Santosh for two-and-a-half years. Santosh’s mother, Neeta, doesn’t approve. It doesn’t help that Cecily is being investigated by her employer for sexual misconduct. Cecily accepted a grant to write a book that allowed her to take a semester off from teaching, but she doubts she will be able to return to work (or to finish writing a book that no longer interests her). To keep Cecily’s taint from spreading to Santosh, Neeta implements a plan to make Santosh choose between them.

Cecily’s mother, Dorothy, is too preoccupied with her own problems to pay attention to Cecily’s life. After a series of business failures, Dorothy is opening a retreat center in Woodstock with Fiona Snow, the author of a self-help book that was entirely rewritten by a ghostwriter. The book earned a mention on Oprah ten years earlier. Fiona’s meager fame has since faded.

The only stable man in Cecily’s life is Dorothy’s brother Tom, an architect who specializes in “small spaces.” Tom has recently broken up with Alan, largely because Tom is more devoted to Cecily than he is to Alan. Tom is having problems at work due to an unreasonable client named Charlotte who happens to be a friend of Dorothy. Charlotte and her husband Oliver are quite wealthy, perhaps accounting for their status as the novel’s least agreeable characters.

Cecily is a likeable enough character. She has the good sense to recognize that she had “grown up white and middle class in a privileged part of the country during a period of relative stability and economic advantage.” Dorothy is a loving if somewhat ditzy mother and Tom is a caring uncle. Santosh plays a smaller role and is more difficult to like or dislike, although he is probably more judgmental in his assessment of Cecily than she deserves.

The novel’s focal point is a “gala” in Woodstock to celebrate the opening of Dorothy’s retreat center. The key characters all come together for the gala. Dorothy plans to use her time with Cecily to drop a bombshell — the true identity of Cecily’s father. The revelation occurs at about the novel’s midway point.

The story loses energy in its second half. The novel foreshadows certain confrontations. For the most part, they unfold as the reader will expect. In the modern fashion, the story ends with almost no plot threads resolved. Life goes on, except for one character, for whom it might not. We’ll never know unless Stephen McCauley writes a sequel. That’s unlikely to happen, but I was sufficiently engaged with the characters that I would probably read it. Readers who long for the days when stories had an actual ending might not be pleased with You Only Call When You’re in Trouble.

The novel’s amusement factor is high, in part because of its pointed observations. “In academia, discomfort of any kind was increasingly equated with trauma.” Cecily makes the valid point that colleges are “infantilizing twenty-year-olds at the exact moment they should be trained for adulthood.” Tom has a similar sense that therapists (including Alan’s) are always on the hunt for “Slights, Insults, Microaggressions, and Trauma” so they can polish them and add them to a trophy shelf. Tom thinks the tourist towns he knows “seemed both immensely appealing and utterly ridiculous.

Other fun sentences include:

“Like a lot of people who claim to resent the strictures and rules of middle-class, heterosexual life, Dorothy and even Charlotte got positively girlish at the mention of engagements, showers, and wedding dresses.”

“When he heard people talking about their longing for children, he suspected them of watching too much daytime TV.”

“Oliver’s sympathy, like that of most highly successful men, extended only to the people who didn’t need it.”

“Gray hair and CVs make for an inherently embarrassing combination, like condoms and senior discounts.”

For its skewering but good-hearted observations and interesting if predictable characters, You Only Call When You’re in Trouble is


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I would like to thank NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co for providing me with an advance e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. Look for it now in your local and online bookstores and libraries.

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I enjoyed reading this book but it took a wee bit for me to get into it because I really didn't like any of the characters. However, I did enjoy the way their exposition unfolded in both flashbacks from the characters themselves AND through the thoughts and opinions of the other characters. The author captured the human condition in each of the characters quite well. It was a poignant take on the decisions we all. make, whether we want to or not.

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this eARC.

Glad to get a chance to read a book from this highly acclaimed author. For me, if wasn't quite my cuppa, as it was a bit too realistic, and I expected more from the cover and the title.

Your mileage may well vary, this author has quite the following, and it was engaging enough, but basically it is just about bad things (not even catastrophic ally bad things) happening in people's everyday lives. If I was rich and trouble - free, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more. As an average person who has experienced most of the things that happened in this book, familial illnesses, getting dumped, career issues, and so on, this book is not one I will be recommending.

Frankly, the characters in this novel were relatively unlikeable and self- involved; if you want to read a book about life's up and downs, and are bored with your own, well, this is a book you will likely enjoy. Personally, I found it a bit of a downer, unfortunately, but I kept reading until the end - waiting for something unusual to happen.

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I don’t even understand what was the purpose of this book. If I hadn’t received it as an ARC I would never have finished it.

Tom is an architect who is facing a lot of trouble right now: his career is hanging by a thread and his boyfriend of many years is leaving him. Cecily, his niece, is not doing much better. She’s being investigated at her university because she was harassed by a student, but somehow it ends up being her fault. Dorothy, Cecily’s mom is on yet another money sucking project, which is a big hippie retreat.

They are all awful people. I have no idea who the author thought was the main character in this book.

The book is told from the POV of these three main characters. The big plot is that Tom needs to tell Cecily and Dorothy that he can’t support them anymore cause he has his own problems, but he never really gets to do it because they get untangled in the big reveal of who Cecilys real father is.

This book didn’t make any sense to me. Cecily is neglecting her super loyal boyfriend, taking shit from his mother and more importantly worrying too much about the investigation on her campus. In real life, everyone is trying to leave academia, but she acts like loosing her job would be a BIG deal. Girl, you don’t have to worry about visa for work you can literally work anywhere loosing this job won’t kill you.

Tom is worried about loosing his job because he has no retirement plan. Let me break it to you if you spent all your money and didn’t save for retirement by the time your 50 keeping your job for another 10 years or so won’t make that much of a difference. Plus how can he have spent all his money taking his sister from debt when she has 125k lying around to invest in a spa/hippie place? What type of poor are we talking about? Because Tom acts like he’ll be out on the street, starving, but let’s be honest he owns his own house.

If I could summarize this book it would be: A LOT OF upper-middle class WHITE PEOPLE PROBLEM.

thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early digital copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Cecily is a young college professor who is being investigated for inappropriate behavior with one of her students. Her mom, Dorothy, is a single mother, told Cecily that her father was someone she met from Australia and no idea how to contact him. She is kind of a ding bat, her life is chaotic and she hates to say no to anyone regardless of how it affects her. Fittingly she lives in Woodstock. Her father died young and her brother Tom has taken care of her and Cecil, never putting himself first and losing relationships because of it.

I found it a quick read. The characters were inconsistent, some were well developed and others not so much. Parts of it seemed unnecessary and I didn't feel satisfied with the ending.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Henry Holt and Co. for providing me with a digital copy.

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Stephen McCauley's latest family novel is You Only Call When You're in Trouble and it's a good read if you enjoy tales about dysfunctional families. I enjoyed the setting of academia and while I sometimes tired of the dysfunctional family dynamic all in all I enjoyed this story.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. You Only CAll When You're in Trouble is available now.

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I was engaged in this book for the first part. After that the actions of the characters became a bit ridiculous. A dysfunctional family who rely on one person to bail them out, a look at the life of gay men and unwed mothers, professional mistakes and consequences and a sexual misconduct accusation in the world of Academia are mixed together to create a conglomeration which went off track for me.

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I love this author. In this novel he tells the story of a dysfunctional family in the setting of lots of problems-- a break up, a paternity revel and a sexual misconduct case all coming together over the course of a few months. Set in Chicago and Woodstock.

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You Only Call When You're in Trouble- Great story, messy family drama. I liked the different characters and it was enjoyable.

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This domestic novel is filled with fraught relationships and people who seem to thrive when they have a banal popular book of trite sayings and common strategies to guide them. To me, the best part of this easy to read novel were its scathing pictures of academia, from the system of publish or perish to the Byzantine processes that slow everything to a crawl to the current culture of microaggression bashing, McCauley nailed the increasingly repressive culture that is holding higher education in its grip. Although his prose is more than adequate, it never sings or causes one to reread lovely or interesting phrases, it is more than up to the task of delivering a fast-paced novel that will appeal to many readers.

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Just as the main character, Tom gets drawn back into the drama of his family life, I get drawn to these types of books. He is considering retiring and new down time, but gets caught up in different problems with his extended family to the point he sidelines his entire life.

There is his flighty, impulsive, caring sister Dorothy who has her daughter Cecile. Dorothy always knows she can depend on her brother, Tom both for emotional and financial support.

Cecile is now in her 30’s and does depend significantly on her Uncle Tom. She has managed to create a fairly successful life, working as a Professor and is in love with Santos, her significant boyfriend. She has been brought up on Title IX charges involving a student that could derail her career. She lets her boyfriend’s mother speak to her terribly and then thanks her for her advice. She won’t speak to Santos about any of this. So, she needs some maturity.

The problem I had was all the family behaves like this. In different ways, each is completely lacking in insight and have no ability to set boundaries of any kind. I didn’t necessarily dislike them, as I felt each was trying, but just found it difficult to get too invested in anyone. As the story finally progresses and it looks like Tom, Dorothy, and Cecile all are going to make some much needed changes in their life, I felt cheated as the end didn’t really give a final outcome to each person’s situation.

I felt the novel had potential, but ultimately fell short for me.

Thank you NetGalley, Stephan McCauley, and Henry Holt & Company for a copy of this book. I always leave reviews of books I read.

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Tom and his niece, Cecily, have always been close. She's like the daughter he never had, and he'd do anything for her. Her mother, Dorothy, contacts Cecily and invites her to the opening of a retreat center she's starting with a friend. Part of her message says she and Cecily need to talk. This book is filled with quirky characters, and at the end the three main characters have major issues that are unresolved. I would have liked to know how Cecily's storyline in particular was going to end, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless. Many thanks to NetGalley, Mr. McCauley and Henry Holt and Co for the ARC of this title.

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A very good contemporary family drama. It's quirky and witty, with excellent storytelling. The characters and connections between them were a great, even through the messiness. I think this will be a hit! I appreciate the chance to read it early... it is a good one!

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When the story starts we meet Dorothy she’s trying to write an email to her daughter Cecily. She feels like she is finally settled and ready to tell her daughter the truth about who her father is something she has kept from her daughter all her life. Her and her good friend and business partner Fiona are opening up a retreat they’re calling a gala based on Fiona‘s self-help books and she wants Cecily to come so she can give her the news about her paternity. Cecily who was working in academia but is now under a title IX investigation for sexual assault on a student name Lee. Cecily has been living with her partner Santos for years but that doesn’t stop her from packing her bags and retreating to her uncle Tom’s apartment. It’s what she’s always done whenever there’s trouble in her life and one of the reasons Tom’s long time live-in boyfriend has moved out. Tom is an architect and ever since Cecily‘s birth he’s promised his sister he would be there for her but he’s going above and beyond he says he is going to now live for himself and focus on his career but this was all said right before Cecily showed up bags in tow. There is also Dorothy‘s friend Charlotte and her husband Oliver that are a part of the story but I will start my review here and say this gives a pretty good indication with the book is about everyone has secrets, dysfunction ET see and the big reveal the Dorothy has been nervously waiting to tell her daughter for all these years isn’t even told by her butt by someone else and the father of Cecil he reveals a lot as well. Let me just add when Dorothy decide to settle down it was in Woodstock and she did it for all the reasons that town implies. In the book we learn Dorothy treated Cecily more like a younger friend as opposed to her daughter instead of protecting her from all the things adults have to deal with she discussed at all with her including her up or down for sexual affairs those of her uncles ET see his family is a mess the people they call friends aren’t any I would want in the one good thing they have which is Tom and Cecily‘s individual partners sadly are no longer as the story goes on due to their dysfunction there is a lot more to the story than even that I think I have no F to give when it comes to horrible mothers name because the book started with that it took a lot for me to even finish I love the books I get from Henry Holt and Company but not this one so much. Maybe other people will like it as I know some people do not judge terrible mothers… But I do and so couldn’t find a reason to root for any of these people… Well except for Charlotte just a little bit. I have read two other books by this author and found him to write smart intelligent funny dialogue and so I guess I just didn’t jive with this book. I want to thank Henry Holt and company and Net Galley for my free arc copy please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.

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