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Plain and Normal


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This strange little character-driven book by the author of Guest of a Sinner (HarperCollins, 1995) is peopled by extremely eccentric, unappealing folk. Business exec Lloyd Norris has just come out of the closet and is looking for love. Having suppressed his natural desires for so many years, he's more than a tad shy. Lloyd's also terribly conflicted and mixed-up, forced to live with his harridan of an ex-wife (whom he married to save from shame in their backwater Southern town when they were high school classmates) so that a mere acquaintance, an impoverished co-worker who pays him no rent, can use his apartment. He's intimidated at work by his CEO, his incompetent supervisor, and his virago of a secretary and treated with disrespect by everyone he encounters. And if this isn't enough, his Catholicism warns him that homosexuality is a grave sin and he suffers from a spastic colon. An anti-hero, but only if you omit the "hero" part. Too many threads that lead to nowhere and a totally charmless, mostly unfunny story make for a hollow reading experience.‘Jo Manning, Richter, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables

A "plain and normal" life is the wistful wish of Severinus Lloyd Norris, the protagonist of Wilcox's appealing new novel. Like the lovable eccentrics of Modern Baptists and Sort of Rich, Lloyd grew up in Tula Springs, La., where he married pregnant Pearl Fay when they were both high-school seniors. Pearl Fay lost the baby‘ just as well, since Lloyd was not the father. Pearl Fay knew from the beginning that Lloyd was gay, but it was only when she wanted a divorce to marry someone else that she forced him to come out of the closet. Now Lloyd is back living with his ex in Yonkers, where she hectors him to be more forthright about his sexuality and he commutes to his job as a computer programming executive in New York, where he is afraid that he'll be fired if he comes out. In fact, at 43, bald, timid, overpolite Lloyd (always called "Mr. Norris" by Wilcox, although the other characters are identified by their given names) has yet to find a male lover. Lloyd's search for romance, as well as his reluctant advance up the corporate ladder and his efforts to placate his spastic colon, occasion genuine humor. Other comic scenarios are not as successful, for Wilcox advances the plot through a series of misunderstandings and farcical confrontations, all of which give the characters a chance to proclaim either their approval of homosexuality or their homophobic prejudices; in every case, however, "doormat" Lloyd turns out to be the victim of their manic approval or intolerance. While Wilcox's humor is affectionate, the cast of supporting characters are almost uniformly self-centered, obtuse, manipulative and devious. It's as if in moving his characters from Tula Springs to Manhattan, Wilcox has endowed them with a hard edge that makes them far less appealing than their precursors. In the end, this novel is a comedy of errors that tickles the funnybone but fails to tug at the heartstrings in the way that Wilcox's fans have come to expect. Agent, Amanda Urban; editor, Rick Kot. (Sept.)

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