Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Brian Evenson, _Father of Lies_

I'VE READ Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain three times--about time I picked up a different one, do you suppose? Father of Lies is his first novel, I think. (His bibliography is complicated.)

In its blend of religiously-inspired mania with homicide, its maybe-real-maybe-not demonic presences, and its utterly persuasive experiments with point-of-view to convey the texture of delusion, The Open Curtain reminded me a great deal of James Hogg's minor classic The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824).  Father of Lies is even more closely reminiscent of Hogg, mainly in the use it makes of antinomianism...cue brutally simplified explanation.

Antinomianism springs from good Calvinist doctrine--the Perseverance of the Saints, the "P" in TULIP--the idea that the saved are so well and truly saved that nothing they do (or anyone else does) can separate them from God's grace. Here and in other respects Calvin was perhaps seeking to undermine the idea that any human institution (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) had the power to save or damn a believer--the power is God's alone, and cannot be delegated. So far, so reformed. In a controversial development of this idea, some speculated that nothing the saved did could count as a sin, given that it was performed by someone assured of salvation. This line of thinking seemed dangerous; it's part of what drew the ire of the authorities upon Anne Hutchinson.

In Hogg's novel, the main character, Robert Wringhim, is a Scots Calvinist, assured of salvation, but his friend Gil-Martin--who is really, we gradually realize, a demon or devil--so powerfully convinces Robert of the soundness of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints that Robert embarks on a series of increasingly horrible crimes and comes to a very, very bad end.

In Evenson's novel, Eldon Fochs is made a "provost" of the "Corporation of the Blood of the Lamb."
He does not feel worthy of the honor, since he has the most awful kinds of thoughts from time to time, but he is assured by the elders that the church could not possibly make a mistake, and that his very election to the post is proof that he is worthy of being God's instrument.  With this assurance, Fochs embarks on a series of increasingly horrible crimes--much worse, I would have to say, than anything Robert Wringhim got up to. Fochs even has a Gil-Martin like demonic familiar, whom he calls Bloody-Head. Unlike Wringhim, however, Fochs gets away with everything and is flourishing in his awfulness at novel's end.

Father of Lies struck me as not as strong as The Open Curtain, insofar as it was not as narratively ingenious, but still worth reading, especially if you like your literary fiction braided with a little horror.

Is the Corporation of the Blood of the Lamb a stand-in for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, in which Evenson was raised, and which he eventually left? It is true that the Mormon church has in the past been guilty of abuses of power, cover-ups of said abuses, denial, hypocrisy, exploitation...but then again, which church hasn't?

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