Simon & Schuster. 243 pages, $25.
Stephen McCauley's fans are known to look forward to his next novel with anticipation, and it's a pleasure to say that his sixth novel, Insignificant Others, is well worth the wait. Set a few years ago in Boston and Cambridge, it features Trollope-scholar-turned-psychologist-turned-HR-specialist Richard Rossi as the narrator and leading character. Richard's partner of eight years, Conrad, co-owns a design firm with Doreen--a time-bruised character who, when offered a taste of chowder at a chain restaurant, says: "Like a lot of life's pleasures, it's one I prefer to enjoy vicariously." Richard and Conrad's relationship, though entirely affable, is not one for the ages. Not so incidentally, Richard is carrying on a love affair with Benjamin, a bisexual, and seriously encumbered, architect. "But for the sake of his family," McCauley writes of Benjamin, "he might have resolved to keep his wayward urges more tightly bottled up forever, but such resolutions usually start in church and end in a sting operation at a highway rest stop bathroom." Entering the mix are family (Richard's sister, usually surrounded by "traumatized rescue dogs" dashing around her ankles), friends (from his gym, where he revels in a near-addiction to exercise, abetted by his Brazilian trainer Walmi, whose own story merits a novel all to itself), and coworkers at a Cambridge software company (an assortment of characters, from the fundamentalist Christian to the Goth techie). Under all the amusing dialogue, McCauley plays with some serious ideas. Who is really significant to a person, and who is not? How much baggage can we heave as we try to restart our middle-aged lives? While this novel is far more French farce than philosophy, these questions may give the reader something to ponder.