Plain and Normal Critical Essays

James Wilcox

Plain and Normal

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his seventh novel James Wilcox relocates his fictional world from Tula Springs, Louisiana, to New York City yet retains his focus on a pair of unprepossessing Southerners adrift in the Big Apple. Wilcox is noted for his gentle sense of humor and keen eye for small, though telling, details of character, dress, and speech. In PLAIN AND SIMPLE he turns his attention to sexual bigotry and political correctness to examine the irrepressible humanity lost in the solemnities of modern life.

The novel opens with Severinus Lloyd Norris, a man with a comfortable job as a label designer for Nylo, a personal care products manufacturer, who has returned to live with his ex-wife, Pearl Fay, after a series of mishaps. Lloyd desperately attempts to put his life in order after discovering that he is gay, though he has never slept with nor even dated a man. He longs for a suitable companion but has no idea how to begin the search and would rather forget the whole endeavor because it seems too complicated.

Nowhere can he find anyone who understands his dilemma, and despite his protestations he is promoted to a position of authority. Pearl Fay takes a lodger and the two of them encourage Lloyd to find a male companion, while coworkers either respond to Lloyd’s expressions of sexual identity with indifference or amused acceptance—no one is shocked, as he expects.

The plot wanders among a host of characters who somehow find themselves in Lloyd’s life, though none is an acquaintance of any consequence. Lloyd is forever the outsider, alienated and alone, and frankly content with his marginality. The novel makes great sport of heterosexual misunderstandings of gays yet asserts the nobility of humble lives.

Sources for Further Study

The Advocate. September 29, 1998, p. 69.

Boston Globe. September 20, 1998, p. N2.

Library Journal. CXXIII, August, 1998, p. 136.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, September 20, 1998, p. 42.

The New Yorker. LXXIV, October 26, 1998, p. 246.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, July 6, 1998, p. 48.

Times-Picayune. September 13, 1998, p. D6.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, October 25, 1998, p. 4.