Books by James Wilcox

HUNK CITY by James Wilcox
Released: April 7, 2007

"Enormous fun, and arguably the author's best since the sublime Modern Baptists."
Do-gooders and bigots, the ethically conflicted and the sexually disadvantaged, ecologists and evangelicals pair up, disentangle, rant and fret in Wilcox's fractious ninth novel. Read full book review >
HEAVENLY DAYS by James Wilcox
Released: Sept. 15, 2003

"Tula Springs is always worth a visit, but this is minor Wilcox."
The gently mad inhabitants of fictional Tula Springs are doing what they do best—minding one another's business—in the sly Louisiana author's amiable eighth outing. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2001

The third in Wilcox's uproarious series of novels set in Tula Springs, Louisiana, this comedy of southern manners reminds us that Wilcox really gets his juices flowing when he's back on his native soil, far from the Manhattan of his duller, more recent books. Though none of his narratives attains the unmitigated hilarity of Modern Baptists, this tale of religious fundamentalism, unemployment, and adultery comes close. In 1987, Kirkus noted that Wilcox drew a tighter knot around small-town life, and that his profiles "of casual corruption and amorality" were "all the more memorable for being so offhanded." Wilcox, "one of the best plotters around," sucks up his characters with "centrifugal motion." Praising him over Updike as a chronicler of "American social reality and absurdity," Kirkus was in awe of his ability to make "gags rise and then fade into something more melancholy." In short, we were persuaded "he's a master." Too bad his later books haven't sustained that rep. Read full book review >
PLAIN AND NORMAL by James Wilcox
Released: Sept. 3, 1998

Unrequited and misdirected loves are the ruefully comic matter of this sprightly seventh novel from the author of such inspired farces as Modern Baptists (1983) and Sort of Rich (1989). As often before, it's a denizen of Wilcox's likably deranged fictional hamlet of Tula Springs, Louisiana, who holds center stage. He's 40ish (Severinus) Lloyd Norris, now a New Yorker, working as a computer programmer for a company that manufactures labels for "personal care products." That's only a minor eccentricity in a narrative merrily aboil with them. You see, Lloyd, who's recently divorced from his old schoolmate Pearl Fay (whom he married when a football player made her pregnant), has realized he's gay. This is of no great consequence to his ex (who urges him to find a boyfriend), Lloyd's macho boss, his aggressively motherly secretary, and the dozen or so others brought together by Lloyd's volunteer work for "Manhattan Cares" and his timid gropings toward a sex life ("all he did in the privacy of his bedroom was eat Fritos and sleep"). Lloyd is a charmingly winsome character, but his distant acquaintances (such as a depressed widower and his estranged octogenarian roommate), whose stories Wilcox pursues in skimpy counterpoint-narratives, never really hold our interest. The novel works best as a collection of riffs on sexual insanity (while permitting a female —airhead" model to share his apartment, Lloyd must deal with ugly rumors alleging he's not gay), with some delicious incidental comedy (e.g., Pearl Fay botches a suicide attempt by swallowing a handful of vitamin C tablets). Wilcox ends it all with a series of pairings and reconciliations that do tie up loose ends, but also have the surely unintended effect of emphasizing his story's narrative unevenness and chaotic structure. Almost as much of a mess as Lloyd Norris's modestly frenetic pursuit of happiness and normality. Fortunately, it's also very often almost as endearing and entertaining. Read full book review >
GUEST OF A SINNER by James Wilcox
Released: April 14, 1993

Wilcox's sixth novel recaptures the antic spirit of his earlier work, after the surprisingly inert Polite Sex (1991); his latest is a convivial romp through contemporary Manhattan—a comedy of errors with all sorts of sexual quandaries, not a few downright crazy characters, and a spiritual dimension to top it all off. The struggle between faith and apostasy weighs heavily on most of Wilcox's hapless modern Catholics. And New York City is quite the proving ground for Eric Thorsen, a breathtakingly handsome pianist in his 40s, ``dogged by perpetual anxiety.'' Among Eric's worries are: his failure to achieve success as a musician; his work teaching music in a settlement house; his totally screwy sex-life (for a long time he dated a nun); and his family's unreasonable expectations for him. His older sister, Kaye, a widowed Macy's employee, dates a creepy married man and entertains some not-so- repressed incestual desire for her brother. Meanwhile, Eric blames their father, a gruff and pushy retired sports-trainer, for their beautiful and elegant mother's death in a car wreck. Into Eric's semi-cloistered, self-absorbed life intrudes Wanda Skopinski—a mousy clerk who lives in the East Village, and who lusts for Eric from the moment she sees him in church. While she insinuates herself into his life (and as they eventually discover his secret sexual longings), she's pursued by the stocky accountant Arnold Murtaugh, an ex-priest who talks like a longshoreman and teases her about her faith. An elaborate game of musical apartments ensues, and the final couplings are to the happiness of all, but not until after lots of meddling in each other's lives, miscommunications, and pure coincidence. There are a few lumpy digressions on Catholicism here. But at its best, there's a Waugh-like breeziness to this delightful novel with its genial view of human frailty and its overwhelming patience with things absurd. Read full book review >
POLITE SEX by James Wilcox
Released: June 1, 1991

For his fifth novel, Wilcox (Sort of Rich, 1989, etc.) leaves the everyday comedy of small-town Louisiana for more serious matters in New York City, where a few Tula Springs natives struggle with ambition and disappointment, and faith and disillusion. Wilcox plays with perspective in a narrative that jumps back and forth in time as he follows the lives of two Louisiana girls who come to the big city in the early 70's with seemingly opposite goals. The high-minded Emily Brix, whose parents are pretty low on the Tula Springs social ladder, wants to conquer the serious stage fresh from her years at Smith. Instead, she finds herself working as a ``glorified receptionist'' for a Times Square movie-production company, where she reads countless scripts that offend her lofty cultural standards. This petite, virginal, self-effacing blonde eventually marries Hugh Vanderbilt, a well-healed graduate student in theology at Union, whose practical proposal leads to an unromantic marriage. Meanwhile, Clara Tilman, a hometown beauty and friend of Emily's sister, decides to become a model to escape her abusive boyfriend back home, the studly F.X. Pickens (the future coke-head ex-con of Modern Baptists). With luck and newly acquired savvy, Clara exploits her southern belle act and earns modest fame as a TV actress while Emily's life spirals downward. Her acting career never takes off; her marriage falls apart; and she finds herself a dumpy 40-year-old living in cramped quarters and working at a test-preparation center. Things are never as clear as they seem here, and Wilcox's narrative style allows him to return to key events, exposing the passionate and messier truths of everyone's sexual behavior. Emily proves the most serious misrememberer- she's also a sexually repressed expert at denial who shares a dark secret with her alter-ego Clara. A surprisingly ordinary fiction from the otherwise gifted Wilcox, whose first venture outside Tula Springs drifts, with little humor to steer it straight. Read full book review >
SORT OF RICH by James Wilcox
Released: May 24, 1989

Wilcox's special fiefdom, Tula Springs, Louisiana, is so sociologically spacious that by now he's able to ship in outsiders and watch how they do there. Gretchen Dambar (pronounced "Danner") is the second wife of a wealthy Tula Springs contractor in his 50s, married merely five months after their unlikely (and unsober) meeting in New Orleans. Gretchen is from the East, childless, overeducated and underworked, and thoughtlessly rich—an uncle in New England oversees her money, at least a million, which frees her to view things financial as vulgar and unworthy of talk. She's a vintage twit, in other words—and what comedy the ordinarily hilarious Wilcox (North Gladiola, Miss Undine's Living Room) musters here falls squarely on her twittiness. After being appalled at the lack of "culture" in Tula Springs, she finds herself accommodating by becoming pain-in-the-neck natural (". . .She was not giving up on the idea of purchasing a cow. It wasn't the milk and butter that interested her but the animal itself. To enter into a relationship with something so basic and primeval was bound to do her good. She really wished to care for something large and mute like that"). Then, when nature becomes too unappealing, she turns to social paranoia instead, suspecting her husband's household staff of trying to do her, her husband, and maybe even each other in. The ponytailed bachelor handyman, Leo Vogel, she especially mistrusts, and their dance around each other is the main event here. For all the indelibility of its completely eccentric yet—in context—utterly believable characters, this is the first Wilcox novel to drift sideways, punctuated only by blows of authorial fate, as in E.M. Forster. It goes nowhere special, and some of the satirical arrows shot Gretchen's way don't stick in because she's such a pincushion already. But Wilcox, even at his most feckless, as here, is still an unusually interesting novelist, never blind to comedies and honors where they're not supposed to be. Read full book review >