Patricia Lockwood possesses a wild, formidable, and completely original intelligence. Nobody writes like her. Nobody thinks like her. Her two incredible books of poetry (Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals), her criticism ("Is it Work?"), her political writing ("Lost in Trumplandia"), and, yes, her Twitter feed, prove she's the smartest kid in class no matter the subject, and also the one who tells the best poop jokes.
She brings this talent to bear in her new—and I cannot stress this point enough—fucking hilarious memoir, Priestdaddy.
Though it emerges subtly over the course of several vignettes, the story she tells in the book falls into an increasingly familiar and tragic narrative that people associate with "millennials."
After a few years of skipping around the country and looking for work, Lockwood and her husband, Jason, finally settle in Savannah, Georgia, a place where "diapered, moody horses clopped by at all hours pulling carriages of kindhearted tourists." Lockwood toils all day at her writing desk, while Jason grinds it out at the local newspaper. Just when some form of stability seems within reach, a medical emergency wipes out their bank account and the two are forced to move to St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Cardinals, Anheuser-Busch products, police brutality, radioactive waste from West Lake Landfill, and Lockwood's parents, who set aside a sewing room in anticipation of their arrival.
From reading her poetry, I'd always assumed that Lockwood was the love child of Virginia Woolf's ghost, Joe Wenderoth, and the leprechaun from Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. But the truth is much stranger.
Lockwood draws her father as a cartoonishly conspiratorial conservative who joined the priesthood later in life through some kind of loophole. He's a dad turned up to 11. A man of the cloth, but also a man of the "ass-rock" guitar solo. He cooks bacon by the pound and descends from a long line of people for whom "unrestrained conversational tooting was considered a form of self-expression."
Her mother's wildness is as apparent but more bottled. She's an extremely Catholic woman who Lockwood thinks "is best described in terms of her Danger Face, which is organized around the information that somewhere in America, a house is on fire."
As we all do with our parents, Lockwood profoundly, if reluctantly, identifies with these people. Almost all the raw material that makes her writing unique seems to come from them. She's inherited her father's goofy but powerful facility with language, as well as her mother's intense love of puns and knowing disposition.
This pair would be the villains of any other memoir. But they're so magnetic that despising them or blaming them for anyone's personal shortcomings seems beside the point. They are, after all, lovingly supporting their daughter and her husband in their time of need. So instead of running them through some psychoanalytic sausage grinder, Lockwood simply reports on their behavior.
Along the way, she walks us in and out of churches and rectories, rendering the sacred profane so skillfully and with such humor that it's hard to imagine even the most pious taking much umbrage at the insults. She describes a priest, for instance, as "a sort of strict male witch," and a rose window above an altar as "the universe's final orifice, dilated beyond human imagining." But the church isn't the only object of her jokes. At one point, Lockwood describes her sister as "a jaguar who went through human puberty."
It's easy to get swept up in the pure bodily joy of reading one of Lockwood's descriptions, but it's a mistake to think she's just showing off. The wackiness of her metaphors and the intensity of her humor is directly proportional to the wackiness that animates the minds of her subjects. The fear of big-city crime, the intense need to adhere to gender norms, the homoerotic love of Jesus—it's all pitched at the same height as Lockwood's imagery.
The book is not all jokes. Throughout, Lockwood slips in the little self-reflective passages endemic to the genre, but she does it with a good poet's ear for profundity. Her meditations on abortion, child rape in the Catholic Church, inheritance, failure, and her hesitancy to write autobiographically in the first place hit you in the chest as hard as her humor hits you in the belly.
But for every hard-earned moment of solemnity, there's a chapter titled "The Cum Queens of Hyatt Place." If you see Priestdaddy lying on a table in a bookstore, pick it up and read that chapter. If you don't laugh like a drunk Santa in front of everybody in the store, then there's a good chance you won't like this book. If you do like it, well, then, welcome to the family.