Skinner’s debut novel is a clever, funny chronicle of an apocalypse narrowly averted and of greatness diverted.
Franklin Bartholomew Horvath is a loser from a long line of losers. But at the outset of this story, he proclaims that his time as an inconsequential cog is about to come to an end and that he may be the savior of mankind. He’s about to enter the office of the former United Church of Satan in Berry, Indiana (they now call themselves the Church of the Epistemological Emendation to avoid harassment from the locals). He has a 9 mm handgun hidden in his pants and his 12-year-old son, Michael, nicknamed “Sparky,” in tow. Skinner then tells the story of what led Frankie to this desperate point. When Frankie was 12 years old, his father had an epiphany that there would be a “Great Horvath,” an exceptional person, in the family. Young Frankie is crushed to learn, though, that it won’t be him—but it could be his son. When Frankie finally has a kid, the local Rev. Phipps declares little Sparky the Antichrist. Frankie doesn’t believe it, but his wife buys it immediately. So he and his wife try to save the world by raising an unremarkable child, addling him with sugar and television and doing everything they can to keep him from excelling. (It’s also perfect revenge against Frankie’s father, who was counting on Sparky to be the Great Horvath.) This eventually leads to a showdown with the Satanists, which Frankie believes could decide the fate of humanity. Overall, this is a fantastically inventive story with plenty of fun twists that’s told with great humor. In Frankie, Skinner has created his own version of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (1980); Frankie is a bit more self-aware than Toole’s protagonist, but he’s no less deluded. The structure of the novel does make it seem like a bit of a shaggy dog story at times, and the author holds back a few details for a setup in a way that seems like cheating. However, the payoff is worth it.
A stylish novel from a fine comedic storyteller who hopefully has more than one book in him.