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Simon Says Paperback – May 18, 2012
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"A coming of age story of finding what really matters, Simon Says is a choice read, not to be overlooked." - Midwest Book Review
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 "The book is well-written and remarkably smooth to read, despite its dark storyline . . . a snapshot of a dark period in a young gay man's life, and will leave readers hungry to know whether or not Simon succeeds in picking himself back up again." - San Francisco Book Review
"Stark and gritty, Poe's story about the search for self-discovery is a sobering testament to the author's own personal journey through Rev. Moon's Unification Church, which makes the story resonate that much more." - Publisher's Weekly 4/22/2013
Star Rating:, 4 our of 5 "Most compellingly, Poe gives a striking account of what it takes to finally seek help after a soul-crushing decade of drug addiction. While a fuller account of life in the Moonies would have been intriguing, Powell's journey through post-church days and drug-filled nights is rife with powerful moments." Elizabeth Millard for Clarion ForeWord Reviews
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But I was so wrong and I'm very glad I took my friend's advice and gave this a read. It's much more than just another coming of age or coming out story. Simon's story, his journey really, is a story that I think a lot of us in the baby boom can identify with as he looks to come to terms with who he is and tries to make a place for himself in the world of LA in the mid-1980's.
Perhaps one reason I found Simon's story to be so engaging is that, like Simon, I too am from the American South and grew up in a small town/rural setting. So I can understand Simon's ambivalence about where he comes from as he reflects on his home town, a place where he never had a true sense of belonging, and his less than fulfilling relationships with his family. The emotional emptiness that can come from such an early life and Simon's resulting quest for love, for emotional---and personal---fulfillment, is what I see driving and animating Simon's story. And yet, it's clear that Simon, like all too many of us I fear only poorly understands himself and others.
Having left his family to join Rev. Moon's religious following, the story picks up after Simon has fled the church and is trying to make a life for himself in Calfornia. Though a lucky coincidence he lands a small job with a film distributor that allows him to learn the skills and build the contacts needed for him to start his own distribution business. Through small vignettes and episodes we slowly meet and learn about Simon's social and professional circles. It's not entirely a story for the faint of heart! Simon moves from dealing with film and business professionals to making buys and hanging out with drug dealers, drag queens, and gay hustlers in the seedier side of L.A.'s gay underground. Given his emotional needs and naivety, Simon makes the mistake we all do of often mistaking physical attraction for romantic love. And given the insecurity of his background, he too often is willing to reject people as they start to become too close to him or he ends up using them to further his business interests. And of course sex and drugs are escapes that are all too available in the L.A. scene!
Even though Simon's escapades can often leave you exasperated, this novel always held my interest and I was always looking forward to what the next chapter would bring. Again, I think anyone who has had to make their own way in the world can identify with Simon's emotional quest and the terrible burden of being torn by looking for love and yet also wanting to avoid being hurt by not allowing others to truly know us. One gets to meet a large cast of characters as Simon navigates his way through his many underground haunts and the beautiful California gay scene and film world. My favorite character is Simon's quasi-guardian angel, an obese bar tender, with the hilarious nickname "Twiggy!"
In fact, my only criticism of this novel is that I felt that some of the characters could have been more fully realized---I'd love for Twiggy to have his own story told. But I have to wonder too if this was a deliberate stylistic choice by the author. Simon's emotional longings are so strong that I think for self-preservation he doesn't fully allow himself to even experience his own emotions. And so perhaps his friends and acquaintances did at time seem to Simon like just the changing cast of a play taking play in his head, and so I guess the author's style helps you feel some of that emotional "rootlessness."
Simon finally comes to understand that he has to leave California and his hedonistic life style if he's ever going to realize his true dream of becoming an artist. That unfolds in the final portion of the story and includes a journey back to Arkansas that's both heart-breaking and affecting, and yet seems to signal Simon's first true awareness of what is required if he is to become a true, emotionally-open, loving adult.
So if you're looking for an interesting read that presents a well-realized and colorful picture of one man's quest to come to terms with himself and his history and find a place for himself in the world, by all means give "Simon Says" a try!
A lively and quick read, and will leave you wanting to know more about Simon's history with the Moonies and his prospects for a sober future.