Review #22: Fiction
Father of Lies by Brian Evenson
This novel is dark. It is disturbing. It is uncomfortable. And all of it is completely necessary.
Though written nearly two decades ago, it still speaks truthfully and unreservedly about religion, about cult-like followings, about perversions of the mind. It is difficult to read in many passages, but truly sheds light on using religion and blind faith as excuses to harm others (in this case through pedophilic sexual assault, murder, and incest), and as excuses to trust and protect the unworthy against your better judgment.
Evenson does not hold back. Though less graphic than it probably could have been, there is enough here to make your skin crawl—and it should. This is the point of the novel.
Readers follow first person accounts of Provost Fochs as he rapes young members of his congregation, even murdering one of them, and uses his faith and the name of God to justify his actions. His superiors in the religious community believe him when he denies any involvement in these heinous acts, rationalizing his position in the church as proof enough that he couldn’t be responsible for such evil deeds. However, this simply points out the blind eyes turned in religious communities; Fochs’s superiors didn’t want him to be guilty, so he wasn’t. Eventually, some truths become known to these superiors, and since they’d stood by Foch for so long, they couldn’t now turn their backs on him for fear of damaging the name of the church.
Through the novel, Fochs sees a therapist because he begins acting out and speaking in his sleep, worrying his wife with the things he’s saying—things relating to the horrible acts committed against the young members of the community. Readers are given glimpses into these therapy sessions where Fochs relays his actions as if they were merely dreams, spurred by the news coverage of the events. He claims his dreams are a manifestation of the guilt he feels at letting harm come to the youth of his community, that he is unfit to be Provost since he could not protect his congregation.
Eventually his therapist, Dr. Feshtig, feels Fochs’s “dreams” to be more than that, that Fochs is in fact guilty of the events, and reaches out to Fochs’s family and the authorities to try to bring him to justice.
Through the book, Fochs speaks to what first seems an alter-ego, a man he refers to as “Bloody Head”, a person who encourages Fochs to commit his crimes, and to cover them up, all the time insisting that it is God’s will for Fochs to act this way. It is unclear what this “Bloody Head” character is—alter-ego, demon perhaps—and until the end of the book, is not seen or spoken to by anyone other than Fochs. Until the time when Fochs’s wife interacts with this character, it seemed as if “Bloody Head” represented mental illness, personality disorder of some kind in Fochs. But that cannot be the case if he becomes a flesh-blood-character outside of Fochs in the end.
CAUTION, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD
This character becomes increasing confusing when he, through the vary violation to Fochs that Fochs had inflicted on others, miraculously (in Fochs’s mind) gets the investigation of Fochs as the murderer of a young girl stopped. Though Fochs is forced to give a blood sample after a tip is called in, and his blood is a match for some found at the murder scene, somehow, Fochs doesn’t hear from the police again. Evenson doesn’t even explain what happens with the case at all—if it was dropped, if the girl’s brother (who was the prime suspect before Fochs) was charged—it just goes away.
In the end, even though Fochs’s superiors in the church know what he’d done, but because they fought against his accusers previously, they were forced to stay silent to save face. Fochs is transferred to a religious college to remove him from the specific community, and in theory, from a younger congregation. As Fochs himself says in the end, this move is simply a new beginning.
Though there are parts of the story that were confusing, felt unfinished or unexplained, this novel is wonderfully written. It’s very raw, and very real. It calls attention to so many real-life situations—and not just as they relate to religious communities. There are instances of sexism, of victim blaming, that resonate outside of this specific narrative.
Father of Lies is a work of fiction, but the contents of the novel are all too real, and should surely make any reader stop and think about religion in society, of religious leaders who are seen as holy and thus above the law, how we, as humans, see evil where we want to see it and ignore it where we don’t. I would not call this a pleasant read, but it is fascinating in its own way. Do not come into this novel unprepared, but definitely do read it.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
*Cover art from Amazon.com