Short Take: A really cool book about being a parent, regardless of species. And Bigfoot.
Until reading Progeny, my impressions of Bigfoot were mainly from the 1987 cinematic masterpiece “Harry and the Hendersons”. For those unfamiliar with this classic, it involves a family who accidentally hits a Bigfoot with their car. They take the creature home with them, and wacky hijinks ensue. Harry is basically a giant two-legged clumsy puppy. He’s an adorable vegan pacifist.
The creatures of Patrick C. Greene’s Progeny are an entirely different breed.
When Owen Sterling, successful author and recent divorcee, buys nearly two thousand acres of Native American land, he senses that he is to be the protector of something sacred. He and his dog Conan spend hours exploring the woods. Through his journals, we see his eventual discovery of the creatures in the woods, and his efforts to understand and protect them. Owen’s biggest priority, however, is his son Chuck, who will be spending the summer with him.
On the other end of town, Zane Carver and his buddies are gearing up for their big hunting trip, along with Zane’s reluctant, bookish son, Byron. (Sidenote – is it weird that the redneck’s son has a literary name, and the author’s son is named Chuck? Just me? ok.) Zane owns the local gun shop, and is one of those guys who believe that firearms actually solve more problems than they create. Of course he resents some wimpy writer guy owning the best hunting land around, and not allowing anyone to hunt on it.
And of course, he decides to take his band of merry doofuses onto Owen’s land anyway, where they get into an altercation with the creatures, and find out firsthand how cruel nature can be.
Progeny is a fun little horror novel. There’s a lot of action, a bit of gore, and c’mon – it’s BIGFOOT. How can you not love it?
But there’s so much more to it. Despite its premise (KILLER BIGFOOT), Progeny is really a book about fathers and sons. Both of the boys (Chuck and Byron) are pretty much the polar opposites of their fathers, and Zane and Owen are faced with the uncomfortable reality that as kids get older, parents aren’t automatically their heroes anymore. With Owen clumsily throwing a football, and Zane discovering an appreciation for the work of W. W. Jacobs, there’s a strong theme of fathers who will do anything for their children – a theme that’s also reflected among the creatures. Hell, the title of the book itself is a synonym for “offspring”, and it could be referring to a number of ways the author explores the parent-child dynamic.
Greene also gives us a thoughtful meditation on the nature of violence, namely that it only begets more of the same. His linguistic skewering of redneck gun culture is spot-on.
One issue I had is that I didn’t get the timeline right away. Owen’s journals are dated, but the other chapters are not, so it took me a while to figure out that the events in the journal and the events in the house & woods weren’t happening at the same time. I blame the sugar.
Also, there’s a lack of good female roles. Deanne is pretty much the only woman in the book (Owen’s ex-wife appears very briefly, for a couple of less-than-flattering exchanges). That in itself isn’t really problematic, like I said, this is very much a father-son kind of book, but in a novel with such other richly drawn characters, Deanne is a bit of a stereotype. She’s Native American (read: exotic), drop-dead gorgeous, sweet to old people, madly in love with Owen, happy to be an instant mother to Chuck, able to react quickly in an emergency situation, and in short, cloyingly perfect. She felt more like a placeholder than a person.
Overall though, Progeny hits all the best notes. It works on the fun/action/gore side, and on the emotional/family side. And no corsages were harmed in this book.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS