Patricia Lockwood: Priestdaddy


This is a fascinating book. I can’t say I enjoyed it, because I was consumed with rage at the appalling person who is Patricia Lockwood’s father, the “Priestdaddy” of the title. But it’s fascinating on the psychological level: how can she be, apparently, still so fond of him? No, he’s not a molester. But he’s a tyrant and a monstrous egotist, reminiscent of Sam in The Man Who Loved Children, but a bigger, louder, coarser Sam. There’s a strong theme in the book of the absolute grip of male power, setting the conditions for the world women and children live in. At an ordination ceremony Patricia thinks to herself:
… on the altar, the mass of men moves as one body. And I chant to myself, “Who is protected, who is protected?” (233)

And again:
Once a month, I dream that I am back inside the mansion with all my high school friends, and a masked man is picking us off one by one. The mansion, as my mind conjures it, is a boxed infinity that contains all my different houses. A hundred childhood rooms unfurl in it, one after another, and the dream ends with me backed into a closet of the rectory we lived in when I was a teenager, the one next to the church called Our Lady of Mercy, unable to move even a muscle. (260)

And yet the blurb tells us it’s “funny, warm”, “joyous, funny and filthy”. Yes, it’s funny and Patricia Lockwood is a highly original and captivating writer.
I loved this reflection as Patricia watches that ordination ceremony:

It would be nice if they had a ceremony like this for accountants, or firefighters, or tree surgeons. Imagine if to become a plumber, you had to lie flat on your face in the toilet section of a hardware store while all the senior plumbers swung plungers around you (226)

There’s some gorgeous writing and an epically funny road-trip with her mother, but for me the general tone of the book was a rather hectic anxiety and insecurity. Greg Lockwood was a Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest even though he was married and had five children, but you can look forever and you won’t find any Christian charity or warmth in this horrible man.

“What I loved about this book was the way it feels suffused with love,” says Emma Sieff in this New York Times article. Priestdaddy was selected as one of the New York Times Book Review’s best books of 2017. I wouldn’t disagree with that. It’s an extraordinary book. But that “suffused with love” question would keep psychologists happy for a very long time. Interestingly, one of the main characteristics of Patricia’s own husband Jason is his gentleness:

There was something in the composition of his face that meant that he could never look angry; the proportions didn’t allow for it. He had the small, neat, unjudgmental ears of a teddy bear. (25)

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