"It’s an engaging story throughout, and it’s rarely obvious where Simon will wind up. A sweeping, unpredictable fictional autobiography."– Kirkus Reviews
A slim volume of largely gay-themed writings with pessimistic overtones.
Poe (Simple Simon, 2013, etc.) divides this collection of six short stories and 34 poems into five sections: “Art,” “Death,” “Relationship,” “Being,” and “Reflection.” Significantly, a figurative death at the age of 7 appears in two different poems, in which the author uses the phrase “a pretended life” to refer to the idea of hiding one’s true nature and performing socially enforced gender roles. This is a well-worn trope, but it will be powerful and resonant for many who have struggled with a stigmatized identity. In a similar vein, “Imaginary Tom” presents the remnants of a faded relationship: “Now we are imaginary friends, different in each other’s thoughts, / I the burden you seek to discard, / you the lover I created from the mist of longing.” Once in a while, short story passages practically leap off of the page, such as this evocative description of a seedy establishment in Lincoln, Nebraska: “It was a dimly lit bar that smelled of rodent piss, with barstools that danced on uneven legs and made the patrons wonder if they were drunker than they thought.” In “Valéry’s Ride,” Poe examines the familial duties that often fall to unmarried and childless people, keeping them from forming meaningful bonds with others. In this story, after the double whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hits Louisiana, Valéry’s extended family needs him more than ever; readers will likely root for the gay protagonist as he makes the difficult decision to strike out on his own. Not all of Poe’s main characters are gay; the heterosexual title character in “Mrs. Calumet’s Workspace,” for instance, pursues employment in order to escape the confines of her home and a passionless marriage. Working as a bookkeeper, she attempts to carve out a space for herself, symbolized by changes in her work area. Still, this story echoes the recurring theme of lives unlived due to forces often beyond one’s control.
Downbeat but often engaging poems and stories.
Growing up is tough on Poe’s (Simon Says, 2012) titular protagonist in this thoughtful, gritty tale.
Simon Powell grew up gay, smart and constantly searching for fulfillment in the rural South in the 1960s and ’70s. As the novel opens, Simon is writing down his personal story while staying at a rehab facility and trying to work through his problems—which are, as he would say, “legion.” The word “journey” is often overused, but it absolutely applies to Simon’s experiences, starting with his first sexual encounters with his best friend. Later, after high school, he fights to establish his own identity in a world full of new ideas, drugs and quasi-religions; soon, he comes under the influence of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church members before an inevitable disillusionment. Simon’s search for himself leads him into esoteric areas of philosophy, music, art and drugs; along the way, his musings are peppered with big names, from musician Jimi Hendrix to artist Willem de Kooning to psychic Edgar Cayce. Later, in rehab, he engagingly fights both his addiction and his emotional detachment as his lover and mother look on. At times, the book dwells a bit too long on philosophical discussion, to the point where the characters seem like mere place holders to make conversational points. But even during these occasional narrative speed bumps, Simon remains an extremely compelling character, and readers will find themselves invested in Simon’s fate. He may be self-destructive, but he’s always trying to adhere to a moral compass—although one that’s been badly damaged by his life experiences. It’s an engaging story throughout, and it’s rarely obvious where Simon will wind up.
A sweeping, unpredictable fictional autobiography.
After his father’s death, Simon Powell moves from sleepy Sibley, Ark., to Los Angeles, where he’s pulled into a seedy underworld.
When Simon Powell was 17, he left home to join the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. He had never considered himself religious, but he hoped the church would help him repress his homosexuality and hide the fact that he was gay from his conservative family. Ultimately, Simon can’t deny who he is and so abandons the church after 10 years. He returns to Arkansas, but when his father dies, he moves to L.A. to reunite with old friends. Once there, he drinks heavily, goes out every night and picks up a cocaine habit. Simon’s friends come and go, many after screwing him over in some way, and his lovers are all interchangeable hustlers. The portrayal of a party boy’s surfeit of sex, drugs and money may be an accurate representation of the ’80s, but it doesn’t make it any more interesting. All of Simon’s relationships are with people who just want drugs or money from him. It’s difficult to become invested in any of the characters; they have no attachment to him and his attraction to them, romantic or otherwise, is equally superficial. He repeatedly makes the same bad decisions in his personal life, readily trusting people who will obviously take advantage of him. When he hits rock bottom after going on a crack binge with yet another young hustler, it’s not surprising or upsetting. One of the most interesting aspects of Simon’s story, his membership in the Unification Church, is not explored enough. He summarizes his time there, but provides disappointingly few memories or specific details.
For a novel so filled with debauchery, it could use a few more real thrills.