Worried that his son might be the spawn of Satan, a dad will do anything to keep his child from realizing his dark destiny, much to the concern and annoyance of everyone else.
Unlike the above-average children of some Midwestern small towns, Frankie Hovarth’s son Sparky seems decidedly below average: he gets lousy grades in school, he only has one friend, he does little all day but stay indoors and watch bad television, and he’s barely even toilet-trained. But this is not just good old-fashioned American mediocrity; this is all by design. Suspecting he’s the Antichrist, his parents have been trying to keep their son as unremarkable and uncharismatic as humanly possible, hoping to stave off the apocalypse. But then his mother dies, and a local Satanic cult seems to take some interest in the boy. From there is a delicately woven nonlinear story, different timelines illuminating one another as the book progresses.
Author David Skinner’s THE ANTICHRIST OF KOKOMO COUNTY is a very funny book stretched from an admittedly thin premise: over and over again, jokes are made of Sparky’s – and perhaps by extension everyone’s – incompetence and myopia. The book constantly mines the kid’s seeming stupidity and gnomic strangeness for more and more variations on the same joke, for instance his habit of writing song parodies on the spot using the words “poop” and “pee.” (Which, we are told, originated in his rote memorization of children’s instruction videos on toilet training.) The father, meanwhile, narrates with glowing pride in his ability to raise his son in such a way as to maximally stifle his creativity, initiative and intelligence. The combination of cringe-humor and absurdity makes for a book that seems fully aware of just how ridiculous it is and does not care a whit.
But to make this mix even stranger, this goofball sensibility often finds itself running up against a very real sense of pathos. The chapters detailing the death of Frank’s mother are at first presented in a sort of Vonnegut-esque false detachment, but as that storyline progresses, even that facade begins to fall away. The narrator never quite stops being deadpan and ridiculous, but the farther one gets through the text, the more painfully aware the reader becomes of the book’s emotional core.
In the end, THE ANTICHRIST OF KOKOMO COUNTY takes a couple of strange gags, runs with them all the way to the end zone, and still has room for something deeper and even sort of meaningful. While it might not be the sharpest satire ever written, ANTICHRIST’s engaging story hidden behind a slew of running gags is very funny, rather original and even smart.