Provost Eldon Fochs may be a sexual criminal. His therapist isn’t sure, and his church is determined to protect its reputation. Father of Lies is Brian Evenson’s fable of power, paranoia, and the dangers of blind obedience, and a terrifying vision of how far institutions will go to protect themselves against the innocents who may be their victims.
A twisted amalgamation of corruption, depravity and abuse of power, Father Of Lies by Brian Evenson defies limits, pushes boundaries and goes where most authors would not dare. Evenson creates a claustrophobic sense of dread throughout, which is instilled with a tangible sense of paranoia and authoritarianism. Devoid of morality, and teeming with injustice, “Father Of Lies,” is certainly a “Feel-bad,” read, that will ruin your day.
We follow the morally-bankrupt Provost Fochs and his vile mistreatment of a young girl in his congregation. He follows the child into the depths of the woods, and following her confession of sin, the Provost proceeds to kill her in cold blood. He proceeds to testify against the victim’s brother, who is the prime suspect. His recurring vision of a man in white orders him not only to perpetuate this lie, but to continue committing vile atrocities against the children who see him as a spiritual guide. Eventually, two “Bloodite,” women, rightly accuse Fochs of sexually assaulting their underage sons, but the Church is on Foch’s side, and the women are promptly excommunicated. Doctor Feshtig, a psychiatrist who Fochs has been speaking to is almost certain that the depraved events Foch’s has been passing off as “Dreams,” and “Loud thoughts,” are grounded in reality. Despite the solid evidence that Feshtig has gathered, can he (with the help of the victim’s parents) bring down the insurmountable obstacle that is the Church?
The comparisons that immediately spring to mind are Tampa by Alissa Nutting and The End Of Alice by A.M Holmes. The sub-genre of religious horror is also dominant throughout in the form of critique. The contents are disturbing in a way that transcends blood and gore and creature features, and whilst the prose is not what I’d typically deem as extreme, the themes are most certainly triggering and taboo.
The obvious and primary theme here is corruption within the context of religion. Whilst Evenson uses the backdrop of a fictional faith “Bloodism,” there are lots of references that demonstrate Father Of Lies to be more than a work of fiction. One of countless inspirations Evenson may have drawn from is the infamous Massacre at Meadow Mountains, in which Mormons murdered 120 emigrants.
The way the story is told is one of the novel’s highlights. Throughout Evenson manipulates the reader through a deliberately vague line of inquiry. Furthermore, when we read from the first person perspective of Fochs (an interesting position to be in considering the monster we know him to be) we encounter “Bloody-head.” It never becomes quite clear whether “Bloody-head,” is a figment of imagination, an alter-ego, or a lie constructed by Fochs to try and justify his behaviour. This unreliable narration causes the reader to speculate, and experience the same paranoia as the characters. The fact we relate to the novel enhances how tangible the horror is, and how Evenson’s gross depictions of authority figures abusing their power in such a way are not fictitious- a truly disgusting and disappointing thought.
Fochs is one of the most disturbing characters I’ve come across recently, and is rendered completely unsympathetic and unprovoked by Evenson. The abuse of his religious Father is briefly touched on, but his motivations remain largely unexplained. Another interesting parallel to Mormonism, and a possible interpretation is the concept of blood atonement. This (now generally rejected concept) teaches that the only way for sinners to be forgiven by God is for the sinner to be killed in a way that their blood is literally spilt. Fochs practises this by manipulating his victims into a confession before committing his own sins, perhaps in an effort to justify them to himself and/or others.
“Christ’s blood will not wash her clean. She must atone for her sins with her own blood.”
This book truly caught me off guard. I read and enjoyed the bizarre, satirical fever dream that is Last Days, and having not done my due diligence, was expecting more of the same. You may have gathered that that is far from the truly disturbing, incredibly solemn contents. It’s not a book I can say I recommend, but it achieved its purpose (some very interesting and truly important commentary regarding abuse within religion) and was beautifully written. It’s a great book, but one that you should think hard about reading before you do so.
In conclusion, Father Of Lies is a soul-crushing and fearless testament that explores the darkest depths of humanity. Evenson invites readers to confront uncomfortable truths regarding power dynamics and moral decay, and furthermore cruelly rips away the comfort blanket of “It’s just a story,” and “It’s not real.” It serves as a poignant warning against unchecked authority and blind faith and it’s one I’ll remember for a long time. Father Of Lies is not bedtime reading unless you’re into nightmares.