One thing that stuck with me around the time of the release of Patricide was the author, D. Foy, claiming that the book “almost killed him.” I have to admit that the first thing I thought was “bullshit.” It seemed like just the kind of overly dramatic claim an author would make to puff up his latest release. Not that I wasn’t expecting quality – I loved the hyper-psychedelia of his novel Made to Break from Two Dollar Radio – but my knee-jerk reaction was that this endorsement was probably a bit over the top.
Then I started to read it, and for the first time in many years of reading my share of emotionally devastating books, I had to walk away for a while.
It was not because it was bad or unreadable. It was because Patricide is a literary gut-punch on the most personal of levels, even if the narrator’s experience with his home life is not the same as yours. It will take the most traumatizing memory of your childhood and beat you to a pulp with it. Then it will stand you up, dust you off, and walk away without a single word of remorse. Only then will you be ready to begin.
Patricide follows the childhood years and distorted adulthood of a boy who grows up somewhere in the lower middle-class Midwest. His relationship with his Mother is in many ways a living hell – she abuses him sexually and verbally, wielding cooing admiration with one hand and vicious punishment with the other, needing only her extremely volatile personality as justification for lashing out. But the novel focuses on the relationship with his father, a very different kind of person: laid-back, solitary, and slow to anger. It is only later that the boy will connect these traits to his father’s habitual drug abuse and ultimately, his cowardice of spirit. But in the meantime, the reader follows the boy on an epic recounting of his tender years in the grips of these two very damaged people, about the slight peaks and the lowest valleys he endures. Of course, he’s not alone – he does have brothers, although they serve somewhat peripheral roles at the outset, only around to provide the kind of scathing sibling antagonism typical to family dramas. However, the important component of Patricide is the boy’s subsequent fall into substance abuse and addiction, the blame of which he rests upon the Sisyphean shoulders of his father. Because of his father’s actions – or more accurately, lack of action – the narrator experiences the kind of false height and devastating fall of Icarus, as demonstrated in the striking cover art. The narrator traces it back to stealing his father’s weed and smoking it with a friend, a symbolic moment, which leads to one of the very first lines: “I was ten years old, and I was stoned.” After all, Icarus may have been trying to reach the sun, but whom else could he blame but his father, who chose to fashion his wings with wax, all but ensuring his eventual failure?
Thankfully, Patricide is much more than a metaphor run amok. It is a complex, layered account of a childhood of the Eighties, filled with wood-paneled living rooms tacky with cigarette smoke, torn-up pornos found in brown meadows, and a front-row seat to the final death rattles of the love generation, who forsake their hippie ideals to scrape by in what Hunter Thompson labeled as “the survival trip”. Foy takes care to lend beautiful prose to the smeared-glass memories of schoolyard fights, pre-pubescent angst and descent into addiction, reflecting on it all with the kind of serenity that Buddhism aspires to:
You’ll have destroyed the whole of your path, and there’s nothing you’ll not have wanted to smash, you’ll long to crush the world itself because the world, you’ll believe, is your tyrant. And hatred will consume you, and lay your heart to waste. Fed by your regret, your sadness and grief and shame, and now too by your rage, your hatred will attain the strength of armies. And, like armies, your hatred will devour everything before it till nothing remains but to turn on itself, a frantic dragon bloody with the blood of its own heart…
How easy would it be to imagine these words spouting from the mouth of Yoda, cautioning against the dark side? But instead of the toothless threat of sci-fi artifice, these are the words of a man beaten and bruised by life, survived his absolute lowest depths and come out the other side, not hopeful but stoic, knowing that light and dark are simply lies we tell ourselves to slip through our lives, hopefully unnoticed.
To take it even further, Patricide could in its own way be considered the Darth Vader story of the real world. Instead of a space wizard turned to evil by vague reasons and consumed by it, we see the real nature of “the dark side” eating away at the narrator’s father – his cowardice, proven over and over again in physical altercations and most importantly, his failure to protect his son from the abuse of his mother. The moment he knows he has truly lost him – when his father punches him with a closed-fist at age fourteen, at the behest of his mother– will echo across time for the narrator, who will never trust his father again. That, and the failure to provide him with the one Christmas present he always wanted, a guitar, but instead provide with a gift which socially let his parents “off the hook” while viciously spitting in the face of his dreams. What was once a strong (not necessarily heroic) figure in the boy’s life has been transformed into a villain, almost cartoonish in his behavior, which leads to a final showdown. Like Luke Skywalker fighting his father at the end of Return of the Jedi, the narrator will face down his old man and finally understand what he really is – weak, pathetic, and led into a life which he conceded to be his destiny.
There is so much more to be said about Patricide. Specifically, the second section, which deals with the father’s surprising flop into conservatism and the faux innocence of nostalgia. So many of us are now familiar with the increasing trend among the Baby Boomer generation, in which the sins and personalities of the past are traded for a decent-sounding lie and pangs for a world that only existed in fragments, cobbled together into a pastiche of ultimate morality. Instead of delving into that, I suggest you delve into the book itself, and appreciate what D. Foy has gone through to bring into the world – a truly American classic about the failure we try to ignore, and the survival we are capable of.
by D. Foy
Stalking Horse Press; 400 p.