Thursday, January 4, 2018

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Cover of memoir Priestdaddy by author Patricia Lockwood
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.

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