Frank L. Cauldhame, age seventeen, has been reared on an island, in isolation from other families, by his father, Angus. His life of strange rituals, such as mock wars, stocking lookout poles with the heads of dead animals, and creating strange defense systems, is interrupted by news that his mad brother, Eric, has escaped and is headed home.
In an attic safe from his eccentric, reclusive, biochemist father, Frank keeps the Wasp Factory, several meters of rambling construction based on an old bank clock face in which he ritually sacrifices a wasp, observing which of twelve grisly deaths it chooses and reading this omen. A second shrine, in an abandoned bunker, centers on the skull of a dead pet dog, Old Saul. There he attempts to contact his brother, but images of fire overwhelm him.
The narrative alternates between Frank’s sallies around the island and occasionally into town to get drunk with his friend, a midget named Jamie; phone calls from Eric, as he flees toward home, in which Eric reveals that he has returned to his practice of setting fire to dogs; and Frank’s gradual revelations about his childhood. It emerges that he has committed three bizarre murders: at the age of six, he hid an adder in the plastic leg of his cousin Blyth; at eight, he killed his younger brother Paul; and at nine, he murdered another cousin, Esmerelda. The final horror to emerge is that, at the age of three, Frank had his genitals bitten off by Old Saul just...
(The entire section is 475 words.)