Book Review: Patricide, by D. Foy

Book Reviews

Last year, I took an online writing class with an author named D. Foy, based on a mode of writing he’d dubbed Gutter Opera. The class turned out to be one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had, and I started to take a keen interest in Foy’s work. I’d already read, and loved, his first novel, Made to Break: a fantastic, beautiful book, which captured the chaos and yearning of misspent youth by way of some the most startling, “purple” prose I’d read in years.

Fast forward a year or so, and Foy’s latest opus, Patricide, popped through my letter box. As soon as I tore open the package, I knew this was set to take things up a notch. The image on the front cover, for a start, which depicts Icarus* as derived from The Four Disgracers by Hendrick Goltzius (1588), is an utterly striking one, and so I immediately set aside the three other books I’d been dutifully ploughing through in order to get going.

A couple of things you probably need to know: first of all, this is not a novel in the way many readers might think of a novel. Instead of chapters, for example, Patricide is divided into several parts—twelve, to be precise—each of which is given its own title, each of which (save for the opening and closing sections) contains the definite article: “The Father”, “The Boy”, “The Drunk”, “The Fable”, and so on. Nor does Patricide follow a “typical”, plot-driven structure; rather, it leads with the voice of its narrator—a voice that had me hooked from the very first line.

“I was ten years old, and I was stoned,” declares the narrator, Pat Rice, on the opening page. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of a novel; an unflinching account of neglect and abuse; of pain and confusion; of addiction and ennui; and of the search to find an identity in the face of these afflictions. Rice describes, in vivid detail, being beaten by both his mother and father, as well as the other struggles and scuffles that defined his adolescence and young adulthood. At the same time, he reflects on the multitude of shortcomings he sees in his father, which provide the blueprint for his own failings as a man, later on.

Given the narrative thread that it follows, comparisons to Ham on Rye—Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical story of the early years of his alter-ego Henry Chinaski—seem, initially, at least, apposite. However, as the full scope of Patricide’s vision unfurls, such comparisons quickly fade into insignificance. Other names, such as Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, or James Joyce—to mention just a few of Foy’s literary forebears—may crop up in the reader’s mind as she tears through this, but really this is an entirely unique piece of work, devastating and beautiful in equal measure. This is largely due to Foy’s prose, which is breathtaking in its dexterity: pitiless and punitive one moment, lavish and luxuriant the next; and yet, always—unfailingly—charged with the indomitable spirit of its creator.

But it’s not all about the prose. Patricide also successfully tackles some very big issues—not least those pertaining to responsibility, and owning the truth. It’s about the responsibility of being a father, sure—something Foy achieves by showing us a man for whom the concept simply does not exist—but it’s also about taking responsibility for one’s own actions. And not just one’s actions, either, but one’s thoughts and feelings, too—toward yourself, and others, especially those closest to you. It’s also very much about finding your place in the world; about rejecting the precepts of the old order and replacing them with what Bukowski might have called “new truths”. Foy leaves no stone unturned in his quest to do this, and that he does so in a language that leaves the reader utterly exultant makes this an essential addition to every reader’s collection. Yes, there are passages that go on for pages without any paragraph breaks. Yes, there are lengthy bouts of brutal self-analysis and scathing criticism. And yes, there are sentences that require a second, third, or even fourth reading. But there is a generosity of spirit that underpins it all; a gleefulness that makes Patricide an absolute joy to read. “I didn’t give a fat rat’s ass,” states Rice, two-thirds of the way through. “I gave heart.” And, quite frankly, nothing encapsulates Foy’s writing better than this line.

Pre-order Patricide now.

(*As in the guy who flew too close to the sun and ended up falling back down to earth because the wings his father—Daedalus, that asshole—had given him were made of wax.)