cover image Father of Lies

Father of Lies

Brian Evenson. Four Walls Eight Windows, $22 (232pp) ISBN 978-1-56858-116-3

It's not easy to tell in this psychological chiller whether Provost Eldon Fochs is a recipient of the devil's attention or a criminal psychopath with delusions. In the end, it doesn't matter. Evenson's disturbing first novel addresses what he calls ""a problem common in a wide range of religions."" That is, a church leadership that exploits the ambiguity of religious phraseology and its own assumed purity to shield corruption. The highest authorities of the Church of the Blood of the Lamb are well aware that one of their provosts is committing sexual crimes against children. When psychotherapist Alexander Feshtig, whose clinical account of Fochs's ""disturbances"" open the book, attempts to bring the provost to justice, he discovers what it means to go up against a self-righteous organization. So do the mothers of the victimized children. Through alternating first-person chapters, Fochs emerges as a man with no remorse and a narcissistic thirst for demeaning others. Yet rather than being censured by his church, he's protected. He's even included on a committee sitting in judgment of him, because he's presumed innocent and therefore eligible. All the while, a strange man known to the reader only as Bloody Head makes all the right things happen for him in return for certain loathsome favors. Evenson's allegory of blind religious obedience is a shocking account of a predator expert in the ""soul murder"" of the vulnerable, a villain who relies on the church to abet his crimes. Given Evenson's well-publicized expulsion from the faculty of Brigham Young University (after the publication of his 1994 story collection, Altmann's Tongue), his scary fictional treatment of church hypocrisy has the feeling of a reasoned attack on blind religious obedience. (Sept.)