Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood is a contributing editor at the LRB. Her novel No One Is Talking About This is out in paperback this month.

Strap on an ox-head: Christ comes to Stockholm

Patricia Lockwood, 6 January 2022

Imight have​ met him once. In September 2015 I flew to Norway for a literary festival. Knausgaard was the headliner, but he cancelled at the last minute and was replaced by an Elvis impersonator. Instead of pictures of Karl Ove smoking the cigarette of the camera down to its smouldering butt-end, the newspaper coverage of the event included photographs of a pastorally beefy Elvis in a white...

Pull off my head: What a Bear Wants

Patricia Lockwood, 12 August 2021

Here is what it is: no force on earth will keep a writer’s preoccupations out of their fiction. You are not necessarily looking for them, but you find them every time. There you are in your octagon, holding a glass of whisky in one hand and working one foot into the fur of a bear, when the fire lights up the primal line. That is what I am waiting for, I am waiting to see scarves on page ten of one book and page 56 of another and then one line in the letters and then there is Marian Engel, the person, not an apparition but a body of desire, playing dressing-up in front of the old pier glass mirror. Continuing to want what she always wanted: for life to make art. ‘A world. I wanted a world; yes, that was it, and I wanted a world I could legislate, make my own; not own, not totally control, no, not that: ah, but that was it: have an importance in.’ She stands in the mirror and turns; someone is watching over her shoulder.

What passes for the next thousand pages, between these harmless pastel covers? Life, all of it. Say any character’s name to me – say Pinuccia, and I will flash on her at the beach, pregnant, in love with a boy who isn’t the father, faced with the intolerable prospect of the future she has chosen, drinking coconut so her child will not be born craving it. Donato? I know where all his freckles are. Nadia? Allow me to direct you to the line in my notebook that reads: ‘I hate Nadia beyond all reason.’ In Frantumaglia, Ferrante writes: ‘The as yet unsurpassed force of literature lies in its capacity to construct vibrating bodies from whose veins anyone can drink.’ For a thousand pages we drink, body after body after body, husbands and daughters and teachers and friends, we drink directly from the neck of Naples. And we do it through the character of the writer, Elena Greco (Lenù), who is driven to master fiction as an organising force, a way of ‘finally putting everything back on its feet in the proper way’.

Diary: America is a baby

Patricia Lockwood, 3 December 2020

On Election Day,​ as soon as the polls closed, I had to watch the three-hour-long 1972 movie musical 1776. You almost certainly haven’t seen it, so I’ll summarise it for you. The year is – well, you know that part – and the flies of patriotism are buzzing in the room in colonial Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress is refusing to debate a proposal for...

Eat butterflies with me?

Patricia Lockwood, 5 November 2020

Strong Opinions​, a collection of Nabokov’s interviews, reviews and essays published in 1973, contains an interview with the great man so brazenly bad, so shocking in each successive clause, that as long as you’re reading it, you’re dreaming of the movie version. Picture Benedict Cumberbatch hunched over a legal pad, sweating lightly, pressing Vladimir Vladimirovich...

Diary: Insane after coronavirus?

Patricia Lockwood, 16 July 2020

My story​ will be that John Harvard gave it to me. ‘Who’s that?’ I asked, pointing at a bronze bust in the reading room where I had arrived to give my lecture, and was told that it was the university’s founder, John Harvard. ‘Damn,’ I said. ‘It never even occurred to me that Harvard was a guy.’ It was the night of 3 March, and travelling...

A typical Edna O’Brien story begins on a square of green. A stone farmhouse looms behind, with a slick spot on the flagstones where the same tin can is emptied every morning by the hired man. Pigs are somewhere in the mix, as are sheep and cows. Around and above and within the green floats another colour, that of deep velvet, the sacred heart, a dog’s tongue. This is the austere plush of the Catholic Church, which is everywhere. A road skips like a ribbon past the front door, punctuated by one of the few unbeautiful things in the landscape: men who lie in wait to do pooly in you. Your father is drunk, or trying not to be, and your mother is ‘the sideboard with everything in it’. If you are not in Ireland, you’ve gone somewhere to get away from Ireland. So. ‘Hold on a minute,’ I said, when her latest novel arrived in the mail, ‘this book is about Boko Haram???’

Malfunctioning Sex Robot: Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women. He paints and paints them, but the proportions are wrong.

The Communal Mind: The Internet and Me

Patricia Lockwood, 21 February 2019

She opened the portal, and the mind met her more than halfway. Inside, it was tropical and snowing, and the first flake of the blizzard of everything landed on her tongue and melted. Close-ups of nail art, a pebble from outer space, a tarantula’s compound eyes, a storm like canned peaches on the surface of Jupiter, Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, a chihuahua perched on a man’s erection, a garage door spray-painted with the words ‘STOP NOW! DON’T EMAIL MY WIFE!’

Sex on the Roof

Patricia Lockwood, 6 December 2018

Lucia Berlin’s style is something I have puzzled over. Sometimes it reads like a really good voiceover in a road movie, from an era when they let auteurs do anything and the desert is photographed like a woman’s thigh and Harry Dean Stanton plays the grandpa. Other times it sounds translated, by someone shyer and more serious than Berlin. Sometimes it is monosyllabic – a tendency towards shorthand that seems both from the future and from the 1950s. There is a hinky flow that is almost never disrupted; her semicolons read like commas; it is the rhythm of a city, which encompasses everything from industrial belches down to twig-footed birds. There are writers who know the bus schedule and those who don’t. She aimed for clarity, directness, but clarity from strange people still sounds strange.

The pleasure of this project is a rare one: it is the pleasure of a person figuring out exactly what she ought to be doing. Here is the exhilaration of someone fully claiming an exploitative gift – which the writer’s gift so often is, though we do not like to admit this, we wish now to write and still be considered good people. Ha! In memoir you cannot claim such a gift completely and still remain in society, for there is far too much at stake. But conversations on aeroplanes? People you’ll never see again? Interviewers? Men? Go off, Rachel. A strong wind runs through you as you read.

It was gold: Joan Didion’s Pointillism

Patricia Lockwood, 4 January 2018

The present literature about her is a hagiography that does not entirely trust itself; there is a vacancy at the centre of it that I call the ‘but surely’. But surely if these essays were published now, the hagiography says to itself at three in the morning, they would meet with a different reception? But surely if she wrote today, her ideas about feminism would be more in line with ours? But surely, for all her pointillism, she is failing to draw the conclusions we would most like to see? The hagiography turns the pillow over, looking for a cool spot. How much can we really rely on someone who loved The Doors?

Aviators and Movie Stars: Carson McCullers

Patricia Lockwood, 19 October 2017

In The Square Root of Wonderful, her stand-in Phillip cries out: ‘Don’t understand my writing. Understand me.’ The writing is what we have, though, and the real genius of it is something that would see through the sordidness of her adult life in an instant. It is something intact and childlike that watches from an unmoving corner in the still Southern air. It is deforming to be a prodigy, but for someone like McCullers, it is perhaps more deforming to stop being one. Her work turns on the moment when the prodigy must leave the inner room and go out into the world.

Poem: ‘The Hornet Mascot Falls in Love’

Patricia Lockwood, 18 July 2013

Piece human, piece hornet, the fury of both, astonishing abs all over it. Ripped, just ripped to absolute bits, his head in the hornet and his head in the hum, and oh he want to sting her. The air he breathes is filled with flying cheerleader parts. Splits flips and splits, and ponytails in orbit, the calm eye of the panty in the centre of the cartwheel, the word HORNETS – how? –...

Eels on Cocaine

Emily Witt, 22 April 2021

Patricia Lockwood is a generous writer. She seems incapable of resentment and has a Rabelaisian appreciation for the bawdy. She can describe America’s corporate restaurant chains and their blooming...

Read More

For all its dirty jokes and baby talk, Priestdaddy is an angry book, and Patricia Lockwood’s use of childhood idiom is a way of exposing the irrationality of institutional authority.

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