Plot: Though Poe offers a thoroughly compelling and propulsive plot, the author displays a somewhat impatient tendency to skim-over potentially rich scenes in favor of more slow-going descriptions and allusions. The novel's unexpected developments and narrative breadth, however, allow this work to resonate.
Prose: While at times Poe's abstractions can unnecessarily obfuscate the circumstances, the author delivers a finely tuned narrative with literary prose that is smooth, rich, and rhythmic in cadence.
Originality: What sets this book apart is its raw originality. Simon’s Mansion sensitively and realistically captures the struggles of a young man seeking truth and acceptance following a period of intense struggle. That the author draws from personal experience to craft this story, provides a meaningful level of verisimilitude.
Character Development: Simon is an immediately compelling character, whose turbulent past and internal conflicts enrich and inform his identity; Simon's relationship with his partner is equally nuanced. As the layers slip away from the other, initially obscure and less sympathetic characters, their own complexities and fluctuating rationalizations are revealed.
Date Submitted: August 23, 2019
Poe draws inspiration from his own life in his gritty third exploration (after Simple Simon) of the life of a gay former member of the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon. As the first two installments relate, Simon Powell grew up in a “timber mansion” in Sibley, Ark., with a racist, homophobic father. He escaped to Los Angeles, became a Moonie, and married a woman, but he couldn’t hide from the truth: he loves men. He left the cult and sunk into a cocaine addiction that nearly killed him. In this entry, a newly sober Simon and his boyfriend, Thad, head for Sibley, trying to stay ahead of sketchy Spanish film distributors who have a score to settle with Simon. The family home that first looked like a sanctuary becomes a trap as Simon realizes his past is putting Thad’s life in danger.
Poe, a strong, able writer, opens with a vividly sketched Deep South of the civil rights era and seamlessly leads the reader into the present. There are a few clunkers hiding in the prose (the most egregious being “enraptured by delirious arousal”), and Poe has a fondness for repeating himself, but these snags are balanced by nice turns of phrase (“They slid like playing cards onto the rug”) and rich analogies (“Simon knew the location of holy places where the strong voice might be appeased... sites where priests administered a white-rock sacrament”).
Poe nails the soul-sucking despair of addiction and the constant vigilance sobriety requires, and his capable plotting easily engages the reader from beginning to end. With elements of romance, suspense, and tragedy, Simon’s story jumps genre boundaries to leave a lasting impression on the reader. While this story is a natural fit for an LGBTQ audience, other readers will enjoy it every bit as much.
Takeaway: This well-wrought gay coming-of-age story, third in a series, is packed with romantic and suspenseful elements that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
Great for fans of: André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, Tom Spanbauer’s In the City of Shy Hunters.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
The eventful life of a troubled young gay man comes full circle in this third installment of a series.
The adventures of resilient protagonist Simon Powell continue in this novel, which charts his post-rehab existence after years of melodrama. He escaped a conservative upbringing and involvement with the Unification Church as a teenager, then intensive drug use with shady acquaintances in Southern California. Finally fed up with his string of bad luck coupled with years of poor life choices, Simon finishes a stint in rehab, then retreats to his birthplace of Sibley, Arkansas, and his family’s pre-Civil War timber mansion. Eager to recharge and reboot his life and start anew, he finds himself surrounded by ghosts of the past. Painful memories of his dead father’s judgmental criticism merge with childhood stories, all clouding Simon’s mind as he and his Los Angeles boyfriend, Thad (also fresh from a drug dependency program), begin moving into the mansion. As things progress and Simon settles into his new life with Thad, efforts are made to repair deep-rooted Southern familial ties previously severed by assumptions, misunderstandings, and anti-Christian lifestyle choices. A family reunion attended by Simon and his mother opens old wounds, but an offer to permanently remain at the mansion to resume marketing films and dabbling in his art endeavors takes him by surprise and seems like a solid plan. Eager to focus on his own work, Thad returns to LA to continue collaborating with an adult film producer, but Simon has reservations about his departure. As the lure of sinister influences begins to tempt Thad in California, Simon must deal with his mother’s failing health and, later, the sudden disappearance of his lover after some vengeful Spaniards from their past make their presence known.
Poe (Endings, 2015, etc.) begins the story with flashbacks, sketching in the details of Simon’s checkered history. This narrative touch will familiarize uninitiated readers with the series and provide an appropriate amount of plot refreshing for loyal followers of Simon’s gritty, fraught journey. The author writes with more certainty and ease than he’s exhibited in previous volumes, though his impeccable sense of place remains solid throughout. The tale’s narrative moves from past to present seamlessly, laying out Simon’s situation candidly and without hesitation or overt exposition, which paves the way for plenty of melodrama and family tension. Though he’s come home to heal, there’s no denying that Simon’s problems have followed him to his hometown and still darken his days. This inability to resolve his issues may become wearisome to readers hoping that Simon will find some happiness after so many bleak periods of addiction. Alternately, for readers familiar with the series, Simon’s continual struggle with forgiveness, recovery, intimate relationships, and the momentum of his life is what gives Poe’s books their moxie.
An engrossing saga of a gay man dealing with the sins of a lurid past while moving assuredly into the future.