The history of literature is full of simple characters who become transformed or enlightened through their experiences. But there are some who just stay simple, like Oppen Porter, the hero of the second novel by Wilson (The Interloper, 2007).
We never learn exactly what’s wrong with Oppen. When we first meet him, he’s attempting to bury his recently deceased father in his backyard. This draws the attention of the police, who turn him over to crusty but kindhearted Aunt Liz; she gets him a job at a burger franchise and encourages him to get involved with a Christian fellowship. Oppen also becomes attached to Paul Renfro, a petty criminal whom he meets on a bus and mistakes for a philosopher. That’s about it for the plot, except that Oppen winds up hospitalized when two of his best friends engage him in a jolly game of chicken, their pickup truck vs. his bicycle. Mercifully, he also gains a love interest, and the book’s narrative device is a transcription of hospital tapes (complete with endlessly repeated conversational tics) that he makes for his unborn son. But the book’s intent is neither dark nor satirical; we’re supposed to identify with Oppen as he dispenses homespun homilies and folksy wisdom (some of which seems too clever to have come from this character). Yet it’s hard to root for a character who seems as clueless after his transformational journey as he was beforehand.
There are some witty moments here, like the scene where he smokes pot for the first time, but this is most likely to appeal to readers who took Forrest Gump seriously.