October brings with the release of Patricide, D. Foy‘s followup to his fantastic debut novel Made to Break. This harrowing novel runs an emotionally and physically tense father-son relationship through a number of permutations; it’s at once a bold novel of ideas, a hallucinatory coming-of-age story, and a reflection on the relationship between families and stories. In advance of the release event for the book next Monday, I talked with Foy about the novel’s structure, narrative approach, and more.
Patricide is told in several parts and deploys first-, second-, and third-person narration. How did you come to use this as the most appropriate way to tell this story?
In the book there’s a father, and then there’s The Father. The protean matrix that he/He is made it impossible—for me, at least—to approach from a single vantage, so I began to work with a variety of strategies that would enable the protagonist, Rice, to understand him/Him. The mixed viewpoints working in a sort of spinning unison was just one of those strategies.
At what point did you add the epigraphs that precede each part of the book?
I’d gathered most of the epigraphs—though not all—during the process of making the book. Some I’d known, some I’d found, some I’d remembered or encountered. Once the book’s structure began to cohere, and I had a fair understanding of what each section of the book was trying to do, applying epigraphs to them was easy, like putting a label that says “Brown” on coffee or a chocolate bar. In a way, they’re each a micro-synopsis of what’s to come.
I was curious about your use of specificity in here. Some of the characters are referred to only by an initial, while others are given full names. What would lead you to use one or the other for a given character?
You likely noticed that the father and the mother are only ever “the father” and “the mother,” while the two brothers are “X” and “Z.” The same criterion holds for anyone else in the book who is “family.” The grandfathers, for example, are only ever “his father’s father” or “his mother’s father,” and in the same way uncles and aunts are only ever “his father’s brother” or “his father’s brother’s wife.” It’s a device, ultimately, that functioned to craft a variety of lens through which to see these characters, though at first it was simply a means to create distance between Rice and the people in his family. The rest of the characters all have proper names.
After several very long parts, the novel concludes with three brief sections, “The Fable,” “The Letter,” and “Wakefulness,” which each offer different kinds of closure. Structurally speaking, what appealed to you about bringing this very dense, emotionally exhausting novel to an end this way?
The book opens with “Sleep.” It ends with “Wakefulness.” So in one sense, the “story” that is the book is the progression between these two states and reflects both Rice’s physiological and spiritual development. But they’re also polar mirrors of one another. Rather than close as so many films and books do by clumsily repeating the beginning, I wanted to suggest in the phenomenon of sleeping and waking that neither is a true beginning or an end but integral parts an ongoing cycle. It’s a twist, too, to a well-known rhetorical device—though most these days don’t use its name—called epanalepsis, the repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning and end of a sentence, like “The king is dead, long live the king.” Or, in other words, a circling back. As for “The Fable,” it’s an allegory told from the ultra-traditional perspective of an omniscient narrator, like any ancient fable or epic tale. It imbues—I hope, anyway—the work with a timelessness. Also, it’s another means through which to read all that’s come before. “The Letter” does different things, too, but first it seemed the best way to reveal the deeply tragic character of the father. Finally, the three sections give the work a shape. The book opens with short sections followed by sections that grow successively longer and more intense, all of them probing with increasing relentlessness toward a fundamental core. Together, they create a vortex that’s inexorable. And since the structure of the book is that of a tornado, this core amounts to the tornado’s eye—the eye of the storm.
I had one question on the cover design–specifically, the fact that, in the title, the word “ID” appears in a different color. Was that something that you had wanted? Something that the designer suggested?
I’m so glad you asked about that! James Reich and I worked very closely to create a cover that distilled the nature of the book into a single image, something that’s at once altermodern and mythic and that suggests to the reader the nature of what they’re about to encounter. At some point after I was certain what the book was about, the image of a falling man appeared to me and never left. The falling man was something of a lodestone, really. I chased him as he fell. The image itself, of Icarus, by Hendrik Goltzius, I found through research. The cover was more or less complete when James sent me a version with the letters “ID” in black, and I was instantly struck by the genius of it. That was the final phase of distillation, as it were. In the same way that the letters “ID” are in the middle of the word “patricide,” the id is the chaotic heart of the human psyche, what Freud called “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality.” It’s the downfall of The Father, his Achilles heel, as it were. And it’s the part of the son, too, that prevails in the commission of patricide, the drive in him that overcomes everything in his and his society’s ethical constraints that till then have prevented him from his crime.