Don’t stop reading if you’ve heard this one before: “I don’t read fiction because I want to read about stuff that actually happened.” This decree likely has never come from you, but maybe you’ve heard it more than twice in conversation. While reading Patricide by D. Foy, I imagined keeping a spare copy with me at all times so I’d be ready to foist it on whomever might utter that phrase in my presence. But that would be really pretentious and probably bad manners.
Still. In the “fiction” and “nonfiction” worlds of writing, take serial television and science reporting for example, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of work center around storytelling and memory. Literature has been all over this theme for centuries, i.e. how do we know what we think is real. Brain science recently has been wondering if memory is inherently corrupted in that it must be recreated upon each retrieval. The narrator of Patricide too must consider the nature of his memory in the light of a crucial and unrelenting imperative to exorcise the “matrix of delusion, of Brughelian malice and Goyaesque brutality, of turn after turn of the desire, fear, hatred, and rage that lead us to the black of domination and defeat—the makings, on the whole, for the pornography that’s been [his] life.”
Much praise has been sung of Foy’s hand at the line level and I cannot add anything to its commendations; from where I sit, the acclaim is, in my not at all humble opinion, completely accurate and better expressed than I may try to. Take everyone’s word for how good the prose is. If lately you haven’t been getting it anywhere else, look here.
Patricide is, in form, a mix of Bildungsroman, memoir, expository journal, and modern novel. At its most dizzying, we are plunged into a kaleidoscope-eyed view of the gross indignities and scant triumphs of growing up on the West Coast in the 70’s, and in case of the narrator’s mother and father, in a particular slice of Hell.
There are times when it seems there is no perspective, outside or inside, inches away or happening miles from the scene, unconstructed in a single sentence. The narrator’s memories, his childhood, his parents, his lovers, friends, enemies, bullies, memories of other’s memories, the recalled feelings, sights, sounds, smells, of any moment, are all etherized on the page, his operating room table top. Any material shred of perception or recollection at any time is vulnerable to catalyzing prose instruments, splitting, splicing, turning around, inside out, flung to the edge of absurd, repeating, repeating clauses with slight variation in the pronoun or proper noun, repetition with slight variation, like Warhol writ longform, like, as he once quipped, life.
Probing the emotional, situational, and motivating factors of a single moment are wonders to read. But we are not kept in that space for too long at a time. The hyper aware of modern affect slips in and out. Foy inserts balance in the form of straightforward chunks of story and dialogue, like The Wonder Years cross-fertilized by Dazed and Confused, complete with the elements of now quintessential marks of Gen X nostalgia culture: the music, sit-coms, toys, movies, a time in which MTV began, just as pop-culture and collective memory was about to exponentially expand. These sections cool off with the sounds of adolescent colloquial banter circa 1970’s suburbia. At times I craved that the prose to go back into this colorful and candidly simple style, get away from being confronted with more perspectives, more dimensions, nuances and complexities of language, reality.
“Dude, we should make up like a huge pile of snowballs and plaster some cars when they drive by.”
“Ah, man, that’ll be so boss. We can totally plaster them.”
“Yeah, huh. But what if they stop?”
“They can’t catch us. We’ll just book it up the hill. They can go bite themselves.”
I could read a whole book like this. These vignettes are no less well-crafted, no less loaded with meaning than the more stylized segments. Together they give the book a delirious range of reading experience.
The title belies the destruction present throughout the story; destruction of family, of trust, self, identity, and, as the title suggests, the father. Behind the verbal and bodily explosions is the steady movement towards a handful of questions, while filling the lines with vivid imagery and detail along the way, like what is the sum of a life built on interpersonal mass destruction? Moreover, where did the carnage begin? Like David Byrne asks, “Well, how did I get here?”
There may never be justice for the crimes committed by family. Most often there is no court to challenge a family’s denial of any number or nature of transgressions. And when the victim is rendered silent, as Foy’s loquacious narrator feels, by this non-admission and history can go on being written by the aggressor, the winner, what then? Targets of his damnations and rage have reasons, subject to no fact checker or calls for citation, and in the space of the self-admonishment for his truth that, once externalized, may be un-truthed, silent destruction moves in and takes hold.
Consciousness may be a story we tell ourselves, biologically rendered in the moment they are produced, the one that matters the most to us. When another’s history conflicts with our own, when memory of one thing, no matter how rich it might be to us, is not validated, often by those we need it most from, including ourselves, what are we left with? For the narrator of Patricide, whose name I’ll leave you to find out, this is the the confrontation that destroys and creates him, in all the contradictions and extremes. “How lame was he anyhow? He couldn’t stay silent for even a minute. No one could hear him. His words meant nothing, yet still he’d had to speak his words.”