Odd Adventures with Your Other Father by Norman Prentiss
Kindle Press (May 2016)
217 pages; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
Norman Prentiss immediately distinguished himself from average horror fare with his debut novella Invisible Fences. A brilliant character study about the fears we inherit from our parents, and also about the guilt we carry deep inside us, it embodied the best of the “quiet horror” sub-genre with powerful, creeping atmosphere and an exploration of the human psyche.
Invisible Fences won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in long fiction (as a novella), an award well-deserved. Norman followed this up with his mini-collection Four Legs in the Morning, another brilliant exercise in quiet horror, about the machinations of Dr. Sibley, Chair of the English Department at Graysonville University, and the unpleasant fates of those who try to oppose him. Personally, I can’t to read about this mysterious (maniacal?) character again.
With his first full-length novel, Odd Adventures with Your Other Father, Prentiss has once again distinguished himself from others in the horror/weird fiction field. He delivers a story full of strangeness and folklore, but also brimming with emotion in yet another startling exploration of humanity, love, the responsibility of relationships, and how sometimes—despite our best intentions—that burden of responsibility may prove more than we can bear alone. You can see this in Jack’s supernatural ability to project images to Shawn, warping reality…and the sad fact that, mostly, Jack is only able to send visions of horror and death to the one he loves most.
Prentiss shows a deft hand in the structuring of his narrative, too. The bulk of the novel is told in first person, Shawn telling his only daughter about her other father and their adventures exploring Weird America after Jack wins a writing competition. Interspersed are Celia’s third-person accounts of going to summer camp, then manipulating events to arrange a meeting between her and Jack’s parents, grandparents she never really got a chance to know. For some readers this might seem awkward, until the narratives are tied together rather neatly with the fact that Celia (a budding writer, like Jack) has composed all of Shawn’s stories of Jack into a narrative, which she’s kept in her backpack this entire time.
In many ways, this story isn’t horror at all, except for the glimpses of religious coercion, repression of self, homophobia, the crippling burden of guilt and regret…the kind of horror only humanity can spawn. There’s social commentary here, too…but successfully blended into the story itself, so it doesn’t feel forced or invasive. Most importantly, Prentiss is writing about love—but not necessarily sentimental love, or romantic love. He’s writing about sacrificial love, but also the reality that, sometimes, that sacrifice becomes too much for any one person to carry by themselves.
But this isn’t a depressing story, by any means. Jack and Shawn’s rambles across Weird America are by turns exciting, entertaining, funny and suspenseful. Prentiss manages to draw these weird escapades with the same surreal realism found in The Twilight Zone—you can all too easily imagine these strange things existing in the offbeat corners of our world. Even a small, backwoods town filled with people with heads in their chests, or a repressed B-movie leading man funneling all his angst and despair into an evil little homunculus he’s created to bear the burdens he can’t face. However, Prentiss ends with an unexpected, touching moment—one I don’t want to spoil—which shines a light through all the darkness, which makes the best kind of dark tale…when the darkness is dispelled by love and goodness, which makes enduring the dark worthwhile.