by Patricia Lockwood

Published 2017 336 pages

There's an old piece by David Foster Wallace where he talks about how writers spend most of their time just sitting around watching people and then writing about what they see. That's what this book is about: Patricia Lockwood moves back in with her parents due to a series of misfortunes that leave her and her husband penniless, and she spends the better part of the year watching how her family—and more specifically, how her father, a Catholic priest with an Eccentric Personality—works. Or doesn't work. Or works! In the process, she interrogates the truths she grew up with and traces the path she took out of the church and into the world.

Lockwood is extremely good at writing, and her ability is on full display here. She can be irreverent, as here on rural accommodation:

"I had always through the words "hotel" and "motel" were synonyms, but as soon as I stepped across the threshold, I understood that a motel was grosser. It looked like the place where Smokey the Bear went to cheat on his wife."

But she can also be poignant, like when she discusses writing:

"On the page I am everything that I am not, because that is where I put myself. I am no longer whispering through the small skirted shape of a keyhole: the door is knocked down and the roof is blown off and I am aimed once more at the entire wide night."

She tends, however, more to the former, maybe to the detriment of the heart of the book. There are chapters and chapters of vaguely ominous-sounding but fundamentally toothless hijinks, and then there are a couple chapters of frank, touching discussion of the impact of her upbringing and the kind of person that she's grown up to be—and then we close on more hijinks. I remember this structure being evident in No One Is Talking About This as well: frivolity in the first half, meaning in the second. I think the balance was a little better there, though I wish that she did more to mix the two.

In conclusion, let's close the circle: here's Patricia Lockwood talking about David Foster Wallace.


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