Bookshots: 'My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir' by Chris Offut
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir
Who Wrote It?:
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.
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.
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