"Father of Lies" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Coffee House Press
Written by Brian Evenson
1998, 200 pages, Fiction
Released on February 9th, 2016
Horror can be gory, creepy, understated, supernatural, cosmic, and a long list of others. However, the most effective horror is that which possesses both an undeniable element of plausibility and a cultural proximity that combine to make it as real and immediate as a next-door neighbor. Brian Evenson’s Father of Lies belongs to this group of select novels. Furthermore, it’s packed with the kind of psychological tension that creates classics and a critique of organized religion that’s too loud, clear, and sharp to ignore.
Provost Eldon Fochs is a husband, father, and man of God who helps youngsters find, or stay, on the right. Unfortunately, he may also be an insane sexual predator and murderer. His therapist, Alexander Feshtig, isn't sure about the murderer part and wants to explore the way Fochs’ dreams eerily resemble true crimes, but his church wants to keep whatever he finds under wraps in order to protect Fochs, which is to say its reputation. With one girl dead and the mothers of two boys refusing to drop the issue of their sons’ sexual abuse even after the upper echelons of the church’s hierarchy have threatened them with excommunication, it seems like Fochs will be exposed for whatever he has done, but making that happen is almost impossible when the institution he works for is willing to do whatever it takes to protect its image.
Father of Lies was originally published in 1998 and has never gone away. Luckily, a new generation of readers and those who might have missed it until now will get a chance to read a wonderful new edition from Coffee House Press that comes with the reissue of two more Evenson novels (Last Days and The Open Curtain) and his stunning new short story collection, A Collapse of Horses. Surprisingly, the writing in Father of Lies is as fresh and relevant as it was in 1998, and organized religion is still facing the same horrible problems with pedophilia, which make it must-read for anyone who hasn’t done so yet.
Evenson wastes no time letting readers know that they’ll be dealing with a troubled man whose ideas are enough to make the average reader want to lock him away forever. However, this straightforwardness in regard to Fochs is not enough to eliminate the mysterious aura of the narrative and even enhances the eerie, surreal moments that come much later in the story. Also, knowing what’s inside the Provost’s head, and understanding that he’s not alone and is far from being an unheard of kind of monster, accentuates the discomfort caused by a plethora of passages:
I can be just walking down the street and see a young child, you know, eleven or twelve, walking home from school carrying schoolbooks. I won't think anything about it. But in a block the child is still in my head and without clothing now, and in another block I am doing things to the child's body, and in another block...(a long silence). It's hard for me to talk about this. In another block the child is battered and beaten and dead.
The narrative is cerebral and sometimes dips into surreal territory, but the reader is never lost because the information comes from three perspectives: Fochs, Feshtig, and letters exchanged between the psychoanalyst and his superiors. These last communications are, even in the context of fiction, enough to elicit anger because they show the dark, secretive, dishonest nature of the church. This can also be seen in the way the church treats the mothers of the abused children. In the words of Rector Bates during a meeting with them, “Obedience to authority is the law upon which all other laws are predicated.”
Father of Lies starts out as a story about a man whose inner demons push him to commit despicable acts and quickly morphs into much more; a gripping narrative about good and evil, murder, lost innocence, corruption, paranoia, and the shield provided by the church to a man who acts against everything they are supposed to stand for. This is a complex, horrific novel that eviscerates religious obedience and, ultimately, the reader.