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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-30
- Reviewer: Staff
A son grapples with the lurid, overbearing legacy of his eccentric father in this conflicted memoir. Novelist and screenwriter Offutt (The Good Brother) catalogued the literary oeuvre of his father, Andrew, after his death. The list included more than 400 pornographic novels published under various pseudonyms from the 1970s through the 1990s (sample titles: Oversexed Shana; The Submission of Claudine) and dozens of more mainstream sci-fi and fantasy novels. The fraught experience of creating that catalogue frames Offutts gnarled recollections of Andrew: a domestic tyrant whose wife and children tiptoed around his temper; a sharp if oddly balanced intellectual; an epic crank who bombarded presidents and popes with cantankerous letters and alienated almost everyone; an insecure narcissist who felt safe only within his fantasies or soaking up the applause of acolytes at science fiction conventions. Offutt nicely balances a fascinating, appalling portrait of this larger-than-life figure with shrewdly observed insights into Andrews secret frailties and the intense, squirmingly awkward relationship that sprouted between them. Its also the story of Offutts own coming-of-age as he flees his fathers claustrophobic house for the freedom of the Kentucky hills where he grew up, and then embarks on a peripatetic writers life. This is a frank, clear-eyed, but subtle memoir that works through raw emotion to arrive at an empathetic understanding of what fractures and binds families. (Feb. 9)
A father's unsettling legacy
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, February 2016
Chris Offutt has made a remarkable career for himself as an award-winning author and screenwriter (“True Blood,” “Weeds”). In his stunning new memoir, he turns to the complex legacy of his father, Andrew Offutt, a prolific writer of pulp science fiction and pornography. And by “prolific,” we’re talking more than 400 paperbacks of series fiction, with titles like Blunder Broads and The Girl in the Iron Mask. (The complete bibliography in the back of the book is worth a perusal for its less family-friendly titles.)
After Andrew Offutt discovered his talent for churning out pulp fiction, he became a stay-at-home professional writer in the Appalachian hills of eastern Kentucky. While his wife catered to his every need, Chris—the oldest son—became the de facto caretaker of his three younger siblings. They all knew not to go into their father’s study, or walk too loudly or slam the door: The entire household revolved around the “great” writer’s sensitivities. Small wonder each child escaped by age 17, but as a writer himself, Offutt felt the burden of his father’s influence.
The questions Offutt asks himself in this thoughtful, elegant memoir emerge from the emotionally wrenching process of organizing and cataloging his father’s work (more than 1,800 pounds of it) after his death. Did Offutt become a writer despite, or because of, his father? How does one mourn a difficult parent? How are we shaped by our childhoods, and can we truly move on from them? These are questions we all might ask upon the death of parent, and they will open up this particular story to many different readers.
While the beating heart of the book is its depiction of a complicated father-son relationship, it also provides a fascinating glimpse of the literary culture of 1970s science-fiction conventions and the last days of paperback porn before the advent of video and digital pornography. My Father, the Pornographer preserves a slice of forgotten literary life within its keenly felt, lyrical portrayal of a son wrestling with his father’s inheritance.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with author Chris Offutt.