Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Have you ever been so disappointed because of your expectations of a book that you can hardly bear it? The back cover (and to be fair, people I know in person too) promised this was hilarious and wonderful. So I decided to let my other book reading obligations go hang and enjoy this one as an interlude. Except I didn't enjoy it. From the title you'd think this was about Lockwood's Catholic priest father.  (Yes, it gets explained and no, it's not like the Borgias and the Medicis who had children willy nilly despite their vow of chastity.)  A memoir, sure, but strongly focused on her life growing up in Catholic parsonages with such an unconventional father. Except it's not. Lockwood's family are drawn as caricatures; even more disappointingly, she comes across as loving them despite the fact that she is superior to them, eccentrics that they are. Did she write this during an extended period of time when she was annoyed with them? Perhaps. Because there's some evidence of fondness for her parents but mostly a sense that she is far more evolved than they are. If this isn't the tone she was going for, well, it's what she achieved.

The writing is scattered, disjointed, and episodic rather than hanging together cleanly despite it being about a clearly defined part of her life: adult Lockwood and her husband move back in with her parents for nine months because they are broke. Now that's not entirely true. The memoir is also about her growing up but those portions are framed and wholly contained within the time period her moving back home as an adult. The structure feels as if it isn't a coherent whole. In fact, Lockwood herself writes in the chapter titled Voices, "You know it took me so long to write this piece because I kept trying to make it beautiful and finally I just had to shake myself by the scruff of the neck until a more natural sort of grunting came out. You can't make something sound beautiful. It's either beautiful or it's not," suggesting that this was written in various pieces not necessarily meant to be cobbled together. As for the last bit of that quote, I will concede she's correct, but unfortunately correct. The memoir is so full of metaphors, even occurring within sentences of one another, that the actual story of this time in her life cannot shine through. Is this because she's a poet? No telling. Is this considered poetic? No, it's just overloaded and overdone. If you stripped the text of metaphors, there would be almost nothing left. I failed to see the promised humor in this was well. The pieces that I suspect others think were laugh out loud funny were just wince-inducing and sometimes crossed the line into mean-spirited. I wasn't bothered by the off-color jokes or the bodily humor (although it was rarely even marginally funny) but the superior tone and the mocking wore on me. Over all, I ended up finding myself bored with the book, sad I missed out on the experience so many others seem to have had reading it.

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