There is another truth universally acknowledged: one is always embarrassed by one’s parents at some point. Usually, the embarrassment springs from changes in culture, fashion, technology, and ideas. That’s usually the extent of it. Chris Offutt’s father embarrasses his family by writing more than 100 pornographic novels over decades. Embarrassment, however, is not the first emotion Offutt experiences when thinking of his father. Offutt the Elder, as revealed in the Younger’s memoir, My Father, the Pornographer, inspires terror in his children. In the two years following Offutt the Elder’s death, Chris goes through his father’s manuscripts, letters, and books in an attempt to understand an angry, narcissistic, prolific writer and parent.
Andrew J. Offutt had many audiences. Some readers knew him from his science fiction novels. Offutt the Elder collaborated with Harlan Ellison, among other better known writers in the genre. Many more readers knew Offutt through the pornography he started writing in the late 1960s. When Offutt the Elder died, he left the contents of his office (and all the porn he wrote) to Chris. Chris’s mother moves to Mississippi, so Chris ends up taking all his father’s papers home with him. The original idea was to create a bibliography of all of Offutt the Elder’s books. The idea soon mutated into a bigger quest: to try and understand Andrew Offutt. Why did he start writing pornography when he was fairly successful in science fiction? Why did Andrew masquerade as his pseudonyms at cons?
Any English professor or major will warn against biographical criticism; it’s wrong to equate narrators with authors. And yet, Chris (and we) can’t help but do that while going through Andrew’s work. After a while, the monumental and disturbing task gets to Chris. At one point, his libido disappears through overexposure to fetish and bondage pornography. There is a very dark aspect to Offutt the Elder’s pornography. It’s very hard not to see Andrew’s mind at work in his pornographic novels. This memoir gets more disturbing as Chris continues through his father’s work.
My Father, the Pornographer is as much about Chris as it is about his father. The memoir is not linear. Offutt the Younger backtracks through his own and his father’s life as he tries to make peace with the Elder’s legacy. Perhaps Chris does find a way to do this, but the close of the book is quite abrupt. I’m not sure he found closure. I certainly didn’t I was just as puzzled (and horrified) by Andrew Offutt at the end of the memoir as I was at the beginning.
A shorter version of this book is available in a profile Chris wrote for The New York Times last February.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 9 February 2016.