PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
After inheriting 400 novels of pornography written by his father in the 1970s and ‘80s, critically acclaimed author Chris Offutt sets out to make sense of a complicated father-son relationship in this carefully observed, beautifully written memoir.
“Chris Offutt owns one of the finest, surest prose styles around, ready and able to convey the hardest truth without flinching. Now Offutt enters the darkest and most mysterious of places—the cave of a monstrous enigma named Andrew J. Offutt—armed with nothing but his own restless curiosity. Spoiler alert: He makes it out alive, walking into the daylight to bring us a deeper, funnier, more tender and more heartbroken truth—and his masterpiece.” —Michael Chabon
When Andrew Offutt died, his son, Chris, inherited a desk, a rifle, and eighteen hundred pounds of pornographic fiction. Andrew had been considered the “king of twentieth-century smut,” with a writing career that began as a strategy to pay for his son’s orthodontic needs and soon took on a life of its own, peaking during the 1970s when the commercial popularity of the erotic novel reached its height.
With his dutiful wife serving as typist, Andrew wrote from their home in the Kentucky hills, locked away in an office no one dared intrude upon. In this fashion he wrote more than four hundred novels, including pirate porn, ghost porn, zombie porn, and secret agent porn. The more he wrote, the more intense his ambition became and the more difficult it was for his children to be part of his world.
Over the long summer of 2013, Chris returned to his hometown to help his widowed mother move out of his childhood home. As he began to examine his father’s manuscripts and memorabilia, journals, and letters, he realized he finally had an opportunity to gain insight into the difficult, mercurial, sometimes cruel man he’d loved and feared in equal measure. Only in his father’s absence could he truly make sense of the man and his legacy.
In My Father, the Pornographer, Offutt takes us on the journey with him, reading his father’s prodigious literary output as both a critic and as a son seeking answers. This is a book about the life of a working writer who supports his family solely by the output of his typewriter; it’s about the awful psychic burdens one generation unthinkingly passes along to the next; and it’s about growing up in the Appalachian hills with a pack of fearless boys riding bicycles through the woods, happy and free.
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 Offutt's 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 Andrew's secret frailties and the intense, squirmingly awkward relationship that sprouted between them. It's also the story of Offutt's own coming-of-age as he flees his father's claustrophobic house for the freedom of the Kentucky hills where he grew up, and then embarks on a peripatetic writer's 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.