Review by Amy L. Rohn

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Riverhead Books, Reprint Edition
May 2018. Paperback. 352 pages.
ISBN: 978-0399573262


For most adults, returning home to live with your parents may seem like your worst nightmare. But in Patricia Lockwood's recent memoir, Priestdaddy, a return to the strange sanctuary of her Catholic family becomes the occasion of both keen observation and introspection, exploring notions of belonging, faith, and identity in a book that is hilarious, heartbreaking, and ultimately compassionate.

When a medical setback renders Lockwood and her husband financially unstable, they move in with Lockwood's parents until they can get back on their feet. At the head of the household and heart of the narrative is Father Gregory Lockwood, no typical Catholic priest. He lounges in boxer shorts, is fond of guns and action movies, and blasts his electric guitar "like a whole band dying in a plane crash in the year 1972." Depicted as complicated but oddly lovable, her father's eccentric views provide a backdrop for Lockwood's own rocky journey with religion.

Known for her trans-genre poetry, most notably her series of Twitter "sexts" and her viral prose poem, "Rape Joke," Lockwood's poetic style, reflected in her prose, is both playful and serious. Her whimsical imagery and lyrical sentences couple to paint unexpected pictures, delightful and quirky. Within the memoir, Lockwood experiments with less traditional narrative, particularly in the chapter "Voice." "Being a writer meant my voice was in a different place," she says. "There was no rhyme or reason as to why I could make this sound and not the other. Always I felt that I was writing to the tune of some music that I learned very early and did not quite remember."

Lockwood's coming-of-age, as both a woman and a poet, is best reflected in her humor. Her wit and comic timing have earned her the nickname "smutty-metaphor queen" and she is hailed as the "poet laureate of Twitter." Her wry humor results in a hilarious turn of phrase on almost every page, and while they are frequent, they never feel overbearing or there for the sake of a joke. The verbal dexterity of her poetry is seen in the portraits she paints of her family, describing her sister on different occasions as "a jaguar that went through human puberty," a "tricked-out club Chewbacca," and a "highly literate female Tarzan."

For all her humor, Lockwood is also able to capture a sense of gravity when warranted, like when she discusses the child sex abuse scandals that shook the Catholic Church in the early 2000s, or the sexual assault experienced by one of her father's students when she was a teenager. She even details the process of writing "Rape Joke" and the subsequent reactions of both the secular public and her highly religious parents. Whatever her topic, Lockwood's narrative is imbued with feeling and depth, qualities that are equally reflected in her hard-hitting poetry. Though her sense of self may be at odds with her strict, religious upbringing, she brings the two together seamlessly. Her poetry has been praised for its honesty, humor, depth, and provocativeness, and these same qualities shine through in her first work of prose.