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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Cover of memoir Priestdaddy by author Patricia Lockwood
Priestdaddy
by Patricia Lockwood
Riverhead Books, May 2017
336 pages

This book. Is so. Funny heartbreaking beautiful. It is about family, warts and all. It's about religion, and being female, and writing, and poetry, and memory, and growing up, and going home. It's about love, and all the good and all the pain that can bring.

Priestdaddy is technically a memoir, but if you're looking for a straightforward, average memoir, this is not that. You had better be prepared to let Lockwood take you on her journey in her way, because she's not going to conform to your expectations. The writing is spectacular, unsettling, and bursting out at the seams. She spirals into digressions with the virtuosity of a scatting jazz vocalist, like she's galloping through the English language with her hands white-knuckled on the reigns, leaving this reader breathless and slightly disoriented and utterly thrilled. Sometimes she writes like her father, the titular priest, plays guitar: with gratuitous effusion in a way that almost (but not quite) makes sense.

Lockwood's family has an astonishing number of warts. They are eccentric in a way that is so astounding, sometimes shocking, that it's almost hard to believe - Lockwood is a standard-bearer for the adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" because I'm pretty sure some of the things she writes about would be considered too outrageous to be allowed in a novel. Nothing escapes her sideways gaze; the gaze is both pointed and compassionate. Sometimes she is full of anger. But she also loves expansively, if in complicated ways.

This whole book is complicated. It's funny and erudite and full of light and sometimes she's talking about things that are crass or horrible. She writes about her childhood in ways that the memories come across as both sharp and slightly unreal, as childhood memories often do. She indulges extravagantly in hyperbole, such that sometimes you're not sure when to take her seriously, and then she will reach right into your chest cavity and grab hold of your beating heart with a furious concision and you take everything absolutely seriously and feel sick. And then in the next paragraph you will love the people in her life, because she obviously does, and she is holding them tenderly so that you do too.

I know this is not a book for everyone; if you are easily offended by coarse language or bodily functions or any whiff of blasphemy, you will probably not make it past the first chapter. Likewise if you can't handle chronological jumping, digressions, or someone poking and prodding at language just to see what she can make it do. But I loved it, and I can't stop talking about it or thinking about it, and I am delighted at the feeling that Patricia Lockwood is just getting started.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark

English cover of Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles from Penguin Books (image from Goodreads)
Love in Lowercase
by Francesc Miralles, trans. Julie Wark
Penguin Books, 2016; original publication 2006
224 pages

I first heard about this book at the end of librarian Annie Spence's Dear Fahrenheit 451, which I could basically have read and called it work time. It's full of library shop talk, but anyone who loves books as objects would find something to enjoy about Spence's book. At the end, Spence puts together a series of reading suggestions - basically readers' advisory in book form, and I decided to try a couple of the books that she recommended.

I decided to try Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, which has been described as a "Rosie Project-esqe" read. I wouldn't know, because I haven't read The Rosie Project, but lots of people seemed to like it, and Spence talked about how books, language, stories, and culture play a large role in Love in Lowercase, on top of it being a romance. Usually my sort of thing. Once started, though, this had more of a Paulo Coehlo-esque feeling for me, which - not my sort of thing. But there was enough to it, and it read easily enough, for me to keep going, and it's not very long.

It is a romance, but unlike my usual feelings about romance in books (which can be boiled down to "more please") I hardly cared what happened to this one. At the most it was a catalyst to get Simon, bachelor professor of German at a university in Barcelona, to get out of his comfortable routine. It was one of those insta-love (though with a small twist) things that seem so far-fetched that it stretches even my incredibly stretchy suspension of disbelief, and Gabriela doesn't quite get fleshed out enough to make sense, though - as I think about it, I suspect that's at least a little on purpose, because Simon doesn't know her at all either, despite being wildly in love with her. She puts up with it very well.

More interesting to me was Simon himself, on his own. As the book begins he's a very crabby young-ish man who has a comfortable life: he's a professor, who teaches his classes, feeds himself, occasionally goes out for a drink or a walk on his own, likes classical music and film, and generally has a very low opinion of the rest of humanity. But at the same time, he misses human connection, and he almost knows it; he spends New Year's Eve panicking about his own mortality, but he doesn't seem to realize that what's missing is relationships that mean something to him. Enter the cat.

Simon doesn't like cats, of course; he thinks they're dirty, but out of some sort of soft, human impulse, he puts a saucer of milk out for an orange tabby that shows up at his door on New Year's Day, and suddenly things start to happen. Coincidence leads to coincidence, plus Simon actually starts trying, after finding himself drawn into relationships with both his elderly upstairs neighbour and the vet who gives Mishima the cat his vaccinations. His most fascinating interactions come in the form of Valdemar, a physicist-turned-fugitive author who may or may not be experiencing a serious break from reality.

A warning for those of you who find unresolved endings frustrating: this is not the book for you. But it does leave the reader feeling like Simon's life is at least going to be quite a lot more interesting, and like he has the tools now to actually have friendships and relationships, as awkward as they're going to be while he's still learning. And by the end of the book I was glad of that; I didn't love this book, but I liked it, and enough that I can see myself picking up Miralles' book Wabi-Sabi, which also involves cats and relationships and will likely be a mildly entertaining and fast read.