A Lifetime in Personas
D. Foy’s Patricide is a narrative containing a lifetime of fear and growth filtered through merciless philosophy
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D. Foy’s Patricide, his second novel, is an unusual hybrid that pushes against the edges of literary fiction with the unfiltered violence, frustration, and angst typically found in noir novels but does so with an elegance and lyricism that echo giants like Cormac McCarthy and Walt Whitman. Equal parts devastating coming-of-age (and beyond) narrative and philosophical examination of fatherhood, Patricide is, more than a novel about a man who survives a devastating, abusive childhood, a text that explores both identity construction/deconstruction/reconstruction cycles and the generational recurrence of aberrant behavioral patterns and falsehoods.
Patricide follows Pat Rice as he suffers through and eventually tries to leave behind an awful childhood spent at the hands of a lying father with a short temper and heavy hands and a mother who shifts between molesting him and assaulting him. As Pat matures, the fabrications he has been exposed to since birth begin to crumble and his parents are slowly revealed for what they truly are. Unfortunately, the damage is already done and constructing a great future from a shattered past is impossible, especially when drugs, alcohol, constant uncertainty, and resentment are part of the equation. Told in first and third person and from the unique perspectives of ten different personas that range from the scared, abused youngster to the (in)mature self-destructive addict who is unable to cope with his past or present, Patricide is a narrative that contains a lifetime of fear and growth filtered through philosophy and mercilessly dissected in search of ultimate truths and understanding.
Foy’s novel inhabits a space between all its elements. This is a narrative about dread, hatred, anger, weakness, truths revealed, and resentment, and the story takes places in a plethora of places within that bleak psychogeography. Pat, like any other child, is placed on a route of discovery, both of the self and of those around him. Unfortunately, those around him are deeply flawed individuals, especially his parents, and that has a direct and very adverse effect on his development. The formative years, those that are supposed to be spent in a semi-constant state of amazement, are for Pat nothing more than a perennial and unfruitful quest to be accepted and to escape the vicious wrath of his mother and father. This state, in turn, becomes a desire to escape, to break free of his own life, to move into a new set of realities that differ from those that are constantly being revealed to him:
“You are stricken with wonder. But this wonder isn’t a wonderful wonder, this wonder is no wonder of serenity and grace. It’s a wonder of madness, a wonder of terror and doubt. It’s a wonder that civility, concern, humility, kindness — that compassion itself — haven’t utterly collapsed.”
While Pat is the main character, his father occupies the epicenter of the narrative. At first, the father is The Father and, albeit somewhat inadequately, he manages to provide what his son requires of him: support, moments of positive reinforcement, and a few intellectual, moral, and philosophical building blocks that will help him become a man. Then cracks begin to appear in the construction that Pat and his Father have built together and two moments, one of violence directed at his father and one in which both of his parents deny him a guitar, destroy the idea of The Father. The catharsis that ensues is a maelstrom of suffering that shakes Pat to his fragile core and signals the escape/expulsion from the home both literally and figuratively.
“Either the father is The Father, or he’s just some other guy.
Because The Father is invincible, indefatigable, impermeable to bribery, sleaze, and vice, beyond corruption of any sort, purity incarnate, authority supreme.
The moment of The Father’s tainting is the moment of The Father’s death — he crashes into the slime of being with all its hateful masses.”
A lot of things lead up to the shattering of The Father and the painful emergence of the father, but that shattering also signal a rebirth within the narrative. Furthermore, that break allows Foy to explore pain and ennui and those things to addiction, violent behavior, and destroyed relationships. In a way, Patricide is an intellectual and emotional map of agitated stagnation and ennui: “The ennui was endless, the lunacy, too, and the sadness, and the heartache and injuries and illness, the plain old dirty pain.”
Patricide is a literary ouroboros that explores how abused sons become abusive fathers who have abused sons who become abusive fathers. Inside this cyclical dynamic, Foy has packed a philosophical treatise on fatherhood, a cautionary tale about vices and the lives we build around them/because of them, and an extremely poetic novel about family and redemption. The result is a novel that digs deep into Americana and pulls out its most embarrassing, chaotic, tender, and scatological scenes and brings them to center stage so that they may, for one brief moment, shine so bright that they transform into mirrors.
Behind the blitzkrieg of ideas and lyricism, Patricide is a celebration of language. Foy constantly alternates between writing that sustains conversations with thinkers like Foucault and Freud and one-line paragraphs that rival David Foster Wallace’s most vivacious passages. This is writing that erupts like a volcano of words and then folds in on itself only to begin the explosive process all over again.
“My father is a man of such limitless contradictions that it doesn’t seem possible he walks this earth. And how is it possible I’ve survived this long, having been raised in this world by such a man as my father… And how can I live each day in the midst of such terrible ambivalence, how can I hold at once such awesome love and despicable burning hatred?”
With his previous novel, Made to Break, Foy announced the emergence of a voice that worked inside a framework it had built for itself. The novel was dark and poetic in ways that heralded great things to come. Patricide delivers on that tough promise and cements its author as one of the most talented and polyrhythmic voices in literary fiction.