Thursday, October 10, 2019

Book Review: 'Simon's Mansion' by William Poe

Simon's Mansion by William Poe

Discovering how to grow up

Author/artist William Poe earned his degree in art from the University of Arkansas and his degree in anthropology from the University of Nebraska and worked at eh National Museum of American Indian. The poignancy of his poetry and novels is directly related to his own history he shares in his biographical note – ‘He grew up in the American heartland and joined the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon at eighteen. He stayed there for nearly ten years, all the while struggling to reconcile his identity as a gay man with Moon's teachings. Poe eventually left the group and pushed back against the ideology he'd at first embraced and then rejected. After recovering from drug addiction, Poe began to find peace and understanding in his art.’ 

This excellent book is the third volume of Poe’s SIMON series – SIMON SAYS, SIMPLE SIMON, and SIMON’S MANSION. William’s facility with language reflects his poetic sense as he shares this coming of age story of a young gay lad in Arkansas – a story that rates very high in the LGBT genre as well as in the fine contemporary author arena. From the opening paragraphs of this novel the essence of the main character is revealed – ‘Growing up in the small town of Sibley, Arkansas, living in the timber mansion his family built prior to the Civil War, Simon Powell felt out of place and out of time. It is said that culture takes root early in a child’s life. But that simply didn’t apply to Simon; he claimed allegiance to a home planet orbiting a distant star, an idea that occurred to hi after watching Forbidden Planet on a Friday night when his mother allowed him to stay up late. So impressed was Simon with the movie that he said to himself, Always remember, you were eight years old when you saw this. That was the age when Simon realized that he felt different form other boys, an awareness that scared him. Forbidden Planet taught Simon that what dwells inside us can destroy us…’

The coming out story proceeds as follows – ‘Simon didn't think he would ever go home again, but to plan for his future, he needs to face his past. For Simon, the family mansion in Arkansas is a part of him. He may have fled small-town life for addiction--first to religion and then to cocaine--but he has found his way home. Now, all that's left is for him to face those he hurt along the way. As Simon navigates his constant internal struggle between faith and atheism, he must make decisions that will forever alter the course of his life.’

Tender, incisive, and altogether memorable, this is a very fine book that explores that journey through gender identification and the stumbling blocks – and rewards – that accompany it. Very highly recommended.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.