Unrequited and misdirected loves are the ruefully comic matter of this sprightly seventh from the author of such inspired...

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PLAIN AND NORMAL

Unrequited and misdirected loves are the ruefully comic matter of this sprightly seventh 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 1998

ISBN: 0316941352

Page Count: 288

Publisher: "Little, Brown"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998