Stuart Kelly

Homer Simpson in a chasuble

The eccentric Fr Lockwood, who also plays electric guitar in his underpants, provides comedy gold for his daughter Patricia

Homer Simpson in a chasuble
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Patricia Lockwood

Allen Lane, pp. 336, £

This is one of the most remarkable, hilarious, jaw-droppingly candid and affecting memoirs I have read for some time — not since, perhaps, Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or Rupert Thomson’s This Party’s Got

to Stop.

Patricia Lockwood is a poet — dubbed ‘The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas’ — who, after unexpected and costly medical bills, was forced to move, with her husband, back to her parents’ home. Her mother is more than mildly neurotic, fretting over things like children jumping out of windows in imitation of Superman. Her father is a bad player of the electric guitar, an enthusiast for guns and hunting, a veteran of nuclear submarines (where he watched The Exorcist endlessly) and a man who sprawls around in his underwear at home. The twist is that he is also a Catholic priest.

Lockwood describes this anomaly as a loophole endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI. The Rev. Lockwood was already a celebrant in the Lutheran church, after his horror-

movie inspired conversion, and then became a Catholic — a perfectly permissible, if rare, phenomenon. But this sets the scene neatly for the ensuing surrealism, as the opening description of her father demonstrates:

Some men are so larger-than-life that it’s impossible to imagine them days-old and

diapered, but I’ve always found it the easiest thing in the world to see my father as a baby, lolling on his back in the middle of fresh sheets, smoking a fat cigar to congratulate himself on his own birth, stubbing out the cigar — with great style — in the face of his first teddy bear.

The enforced closeness to her family allows Lockwood to muse on her religious inheritance. Her husband asks what exactly they believe and she unleashes a riff of epic proportions, beginning: ‘First of all blood. BLOOD. Second of all, thorns. Third of all, put dirt on your forehead’, and on and on for the rest of the beautifully blasphemous paragraph. Knocking religion is a fairly easy game, but to do it while retaining a sense of elegy for lost belief is a much more difficult proposition, and Lockwood gets the balance right. The scenes between her and the seminarians who also occupy the house are touching and strange.

But although the elevator pitch — Homer Simpson in a chasuble — is pretty obvious, the book is actually much more than just a forensic dissection of her parents’ foibles and oddities. One chapter, entitled ‘Voice’, is a genuinely profound meditation on what being a poet means, without the fatuousness and self-congratulation that often accompanies such writing. Lockwood writes about a kind of lexical synaesthesia, where words have an arcane visual similarity to their own meanings, in a striking and original way.

There is also some trenchant material on the ecological damage done to many of these Midwest towns, with a polemical edge in revealing how certain medical problems in local families, including Lockwood’s own, might be attributable to industrial and radioactive waste. Again, this is done with a combination of manic levity and profound unease, a sense of genuine injustice tethered to a smart-alec whipcrack.

Other reviewers may say that Lockwood has a ‘sassy’ style. She has perfect comic timing, a righteous — even self-righteous — indignation and a knowledge of when these registers should be deployed. It’s just good writing, and a profound capacity to be honest. There is joy to be found in almost every sentence.

One of Priestdaddy’s most empathetic aspects is, in the end, I would rather meet Father Lockwood than the author — something he would no doubt gleefully air-punch at, given his combination of disinhibition and curious pride in what his daughter has achieved.