“Cocaine overtook the lives of many people in the 1980s. That seemed especially true in the Hollywood gay scene, where I was something of a fixture in the bars, especially the seedy ones.”
Simon Powell has lived a life of many regrets – one of religious engagement and chemical addiction; of Hollywood dreams and cold nights on concrete streets, of love and loss, and the harsh bounce back from rock-bottom. Simon is a gay man from Arkansas who’s seen it all, and it’s taken its toll. Recovering from his near-fatal addiction, he worked towards a healthier existence through rehab and therapy, the latter of which has Simon telling the story of his childhood, and his origins with the Sun Myung Moon Unification Church. It’s a hard tale to tell, but if Simon is going to rise from the ashes of his past, he has to go back to the beginning. Simon tells it all in Simple Simon, the sequel – and prequel – to William Poe’s award-winning novel, Simon Says.
It bears mention early on that this might be a difficult read for some. Poe, as Simon, writes from a very personal position that takes a very no-holds-barred attitude to the events, thoughts, and feelings that the character goes through. It’s very easy to see how Poe’s own experience has informed the fiction, as well as a great deal of research into the events and locations depicted in the book, which ensures the fiction and the reality are almost indistinguishable. It’s an impressive, and utterly captivating read, and expect the unflinching approach to take the wind out of you emotionally as you read, at least once or twice – yet somehow in a good way, as a kind of catharsis.
The book does cover a lot of topics, and the structure of the read doesn’t concern itself with being too clear, trusting the reader to be able to cascade between events as they unfold in the dual narratives of the experience in rehab and Simon’s deeper past. It would be easy to over-complicate matters with such an approach, but Poe does an excellent job of choosing the right points to skip back and forth, all within the same past-tense narrative of Simon’s story. It’s very natural and most readers will probably never even realize that Poe has crafted something so intricate and eloquent.
Simple Simon is an awe-inspiring novel that deserves every bit as much praise as its previous installment, and more. While it makes sense to read the previous book before this one, even on its own there is an intelligent, easy-to-follow narrative that stands perfectly well on its own. It’s a powerful look at the life of a gay man going through some of the craziest, most inhumane parts of 20th-century America, and all the hell it has to offer…and yet hope, and love, can always rise above it all. It’s a profound and moving read.
Content warning for depictions of drug abuse, homophobia, childhood trauma, cult activity, suicide, and murder.