BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, February 2016
Chris Offutt has made a remarkable career for himself as an award-winning author and screenwriter (“True Blood,” “Weeds”). In his stunning new memoir, he turns to the complex legacy of his father, Andrew Offutt, a prolific writer of pulp science fiction and pornography. And by “prolific,” we’re talking more than 400 paperbacks of series fiction, with titles like Blunder Broads and The Girl in the Iron Mask. (The complete bibliography in the back of the book is worth a perusal for its less family-friendly titles.)
After Andrew Offutt discovered his talent for churning out pulp fiction, he became a stay-at-home professional writer in the Appalachian hills of eastern Kentucky. While his wife catered to his every need, Chris—the oldest son—became the de facto caretaker of his three younger siblings. They all knew not to go into their father’s study, or walk too loudly or slam the door: The entire household revolved around the “great” writer’s sensitivities. Small wonder each child escaped by age 17, but as a writer himself, Offutt felt the burden of his father’s influence.
The questions Offutt asks himself in this thoughtful, elegant memoir emerge from the emotionally wrenching process of organizing and cataloging his father’s work (more than 1,800 pounds of it) after his death. Did Offutt become a writer despite, or because of, his father? How does one mourn a difficult parent? How are we shaped by our childhoods, and can we truly move on from them? These are questions we all might ask upon the death of parent, and they will open up this particular story to many different readers.
While the beating heart of the book is its depiction of a complicated father-son relationship, it also provides a fascinating glimpse of the literary culture of 1970s science-fiction conventions and the last days of paperback porn before the advent of video and digital pornography. My Father, the Pornographer preserves a slice of forgotten literary life within its keenly felt, lyrical portrayal of a son wrestling with his father’s inheritance.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with author Chris Offutt.