William Poe takes a new perspective on his alter ego, Simon Powell, in this new novel about identity and belonging. Earlier, in Simon Says, Poe introduced the earnest and conflicted Simon and many of his struggles. With Simple Simon, Poe offers a companion piece, with a similar backstory but a different, more uplifting tone. This time, Simon’s route takes him past the road to ruin and sets him on the path to redemption.
Poe lets Simon tell his own story, through journal entries, as suggested by the rehab counselor guiding Simon’s recovery. Clearly, the adult Simon is at a breaking point, and it’s through his writing that he hopes to reclaim his past and prepare for serious changes in the future. The framing device is a useful anchor, although a little awkward at times, as present-day Simon surfaces fairly frequently, breaking the flow of the overall narrative.
Simon’s story does have flow worth preserving. This is a fairly long book, based on the author’s real-life experiences, but it doesn’t read like a confessional memoir. It reads like a story. Poe is adept with dialogue, and balances action scenes and plot twists with an insightful look at what’s going on inside Simon’s head. As he struggles with faith, addiction, and his greatest fear—coming out as a gay man—we get a unique perspective not only on Simon’s psychology, but also on a fascinating period in American history. Simon’s coming-of-age story carries him through the rising hippie drug culture, shifting societal views about homosexuality, and the proliferation of alternative religious movements like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Behind-the-scenes looks at things like Rev. Moon’s mass wedding ceremonies and the gay pickup culture of Hollywood are honest without being salacious.
Simon’s successful life journey hinges on him shedding his initial naiveté, and coming to accept his own identity without external validation. While, at first, he hopes that drugs will make him forget about being gay, or that joining Rev. Moon’s church can cure his homosexuality, he gradually comes to an authentic acceptance of his own identity. Simple Simon is a story that will ring bells of hope not only for gay people, but for anyone who has ever suffered from crippling self-doubt.