Bookshots: 'My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir' by Chris Offut

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir

Who Wrote It?:

That’s the sense I got from reading this memoir, this biography, this mixture of deceased father, and living son—strange revelations, touching moments of insight, and the succinct feeling that a great divide was somehow lessened.

Chris Offutt, an American short story writer and novelist. He has also written for the TV shows True Blood and Weeds.

Plot in a Box:

When Andrew Offutt died, his son, Chris, inherited a desk, a rifle, and eighteen hundred pounds of pornographic fiction. An accomplished author, Chris began a journey of discovery—about his father, himself, and the place he grew up—the Appalachian hills. Living in the shadow of a critically respected author is one thing, but when it’s your father, and the writing is pornographic, it’s something else entirely.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

May the Sins of the Father Be Visited Upon the Son

Read This If You Liked:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed; The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch; Twilight by William Gay

Meet the Book’s Lead(s):

Andrew Offut is the subject of the book, the father that writes science fiction and pornography, under many aliases, gaining the respect of convention goers and fans, while keeping his secret tucked away in his library.

Chris Offut is the talented son, tasked with handling the estate, and the mountain of material that few, if any family or outsiders, have ever seen. Mutually disgusted and impressed, overwhelmed and moved, his journey is one of insight, and echo, seeing himself in the work of his father.

Said Lead(s) Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:

Tommy Lee Jones as Andrew Offut, and Billy Bob Thornton as Chris Offut—both quite possibly with beards, or scraggly stubble.

Setting: Would You Want to Live There?

The hills of Appalachia can be extremely poor, the rural inhabitants hunting to survive, often abandoning education to work, or help with the family farm. And it can also be a place of seclusion and beauty, embracing nature, and all that she has to offer. So the answer is—maybe?

What was your favorite sentence?

My car contained guns, bundles of cash I’d found hidden about the house, and boxes of vintage pornography. If I got pulled over and searched, I’d probably go to jail. If I had a wreck, money and porn would litter the interstate, mixed with my funeral suit, my grandfather’s rifle, a shotgun, three hundred rounds of ammunition, the remnants of my father’s ashes, and whatever was left of me.

The Verdict:

This is one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. This is equal parts biography and memoir—just as much about the author, Chris Offut, a well-regarded author, somebody I recently saw on television, Anthony Bourdain gathering people around a long table, and his enigma of a father—domineering, reckless, talented, distant, and complex.

This book is not about the pornography—so don’t expect to get aroused reading these chapters. It’s about a father and son, and how the former pushed the latter away, pushed everyone away, as an opportunity presented itself to us, to Chris Offut, to dig into the papers, stories, letters, and memories in an effort to get to know the man, after his demise.

I related to a lot of the moments in this book, never having a close relationship to my own father, who was born in Texas. We were two very different cats. The man never once told me he loved me, but I knew that he did. We worked on cars, a 1967 Camaro and a 1966 Mustang, that he bought for me. That was how he showed his love—never with his words, but with his actions—a gift, his presence, or the back of his hand to my face. While my father was not an author, a painting of his hung in our wood-paneled living room for as long as I can remember—this man who would become an accountant, the only letter he ever sent to me at college a quote from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” as bizarre a missive as I ever got:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."

That’s the sense I got from reading this memoir, this biography, this mixture of deceased father, and living son—strange revelations, touching moments of insight, and the succinct feeling that a great divide was somehow lessened. There is laughter in this book, mixed in with self-doubt, sorrow, enlightenment, and growth. What Chris Offut has done, in writing this book, is honor his father, a man that he grew to know much better through his discoveries, as he came to know himself, as well. It’s a fascinating story, written by a truly gifted author—one that didn’t fall too far from the family tree.

Image of My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir
Author: Chris Offutt
Price: $16.88
Publisher: Atria Books (2016)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages
Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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Comments

Patti Nase Abbott's picture
Patti Nase Abbott April 19, 2016 - 11:33am

A very sad story, I thought. He had so little to give to his family. And yet so many words to put on paper. I still picture those kids creeping around the house.