3 out of 4 stars
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Simon Says by William Poe is the story of a man, Simon, who escapes a religious cult after repressing his homosexuality there for ten years. Once he decides to leave the cult and take a shot at happiness, he encounters a whirlwind of events and people who take his life to many highs but generally leave him feeling low. Escaping his small home town, he moves to Hollywood and starts working as a movie distributor. Like many people who make it big in Hollywood, he finds new vices and his problems slowly start to spiral out of control.
Despite his success at work and newfound freedom to express his sexuality in any way he pleases, Simon is fundamentally challenged when it comes to love. He falls in love too easily and is willing to trade money and cocaine for affection. This causes him to be used not just by his lovers, but by the people around him who know of his wealth, as well as his weaknesses for drugs and alcohol.
This book reminded me of Heaven Is a Gay Bar by Bryan Foreman, a book I reviewed a few months ago which is also about the gay scene in the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, as well as a man who struggles with love and addiction. However, where Heaven is a Gay Bar was funny and focused on a straight man in a gay world, Simon Says is very explicit and focuses more on drama than humor. There are a few quippy lines, but the overall writing style is very realistic.
Unfortunately, Simon made the same mistakes multiple times without learning from them. He was on drugs for almost 80% of the novel, and when you're not reading about his reactions to the drugs, you're reading about him searching for more drugs or wanting to do them but not being able to. He even tried to quit a few times, but never lasted more than a day, perhaps. At least, that's how long it felt like. I honestly lost track because other than what was going on with the supporting characters, almost every chapter in the middle was the same. I even lost track of how many lovers Simon had because they were all described as younger and better looking than Simon, and they were all after his money and/or drugs. Only one of them stuck around to become a supporting character. Despite the long, drawn-out stories behind Simon's drug trips, the book's ending came completely without warning and didn't leave me feeling satisfied at all.
I had a lot of complaints about the novel's repetitive style, but it was truly well-edited and I was never bored while reading it. In fact, I got through the first half in just one night, but the second half I had to plod through in small chunks. It's a shame that the ending was so abrupt, because if it had given me some satisfaction after Simon's long journey I would have been able to give the book 4 stars. As it is, I feel like I can only give it 3 out of 4 stars. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy drama and gay erotica, but I would not recommend it to anyone who has struggled with addiction, or those who cannot handle explicit novels.
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