The Psychopath Test: an extract from Patricia Lockwood’s ‘Priestdaddy’

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EVENT: Patricia Lockwood is in conversation with Dawn Foster at the Bookshop on Monday 24 April, discussing her new memoir Priestdaddy. Book tickets here. Read on for an extract from the opening section of the book, ‘Introductory Rites’.

“Before they allowed your father to be a priest,” my mother tells me, “they made me take the Psychopath Test. You know, a priest can’t have a psychopath wife, it would bring disgrace.”

She sets a brimming teacup in front of me and yells, “HOT!” She sets a second one in front of my husband, Jason, and yells, “Don’t touch it!” She situates herself in the chair at the head of the table and gazes at the two of us with total maternal happiness, ready to tell the story of the time someone dared to question her mental health.

We are congregating in the dining room of my father’s rectory in Kansas City, where I have returned to live with my parents after twelve long years away. Jason presses his shoulder against mine for reassurance and tries to avoid making eye contact with the graphic crucifix on the opposite wall, whose nouns are like a poem’s nouns: blood, bone, skin. We are penniless and we are exhausted, and in the grand human tradition, we have thrown ourselves on the mercy of the church, which exists for me on this earth in an unusually patriarchal form. It walks, it cusses, it calls me Bit. It is currently shredding its guitar upstairs, across the hallway from the room where we will be staying for the foreseeable future. Through the east window I can see the same dark geometry of buildings that surrounded me all throughout my childhood: closed school, locked gymnasium, the squares and spires of a place of worship plummeting up into the night.

“Well. You wouldn’t want . . . to bring disgrace . . . to the Catholic Church,” Jason says, with a diplomacy that is almost beautiful, making a great show of blowing on his murderously hot tea.

“No, you wouldn’t,” my mother agrees. “They came to the house, because where people are a psychopath the most is in their own homes. And they tried to trap me. They brought all these questions. “They said, ‘Oh, did you ever feel bad when you killed someone? Which drug tastes the best to you? When your dog talks, what does he say? How many times have you been suicidal?’ They didn’t believe me that I’d never been suicidal. Why would I be suicidal. I’m in love with life.”

She bangs down her rosebud-patterned cup with unexpected force, seized with the sudden urge to backflip through time and attempt a citizen’s arrest. “They were using so many double negatives that finally I just lost it. ‘You can come back here and give me that test when the questions are in English!’ I said, and I chased them away.”

“I don’t understand how you passed,” I say. “From what you’re telling me, it sounds like you should have gotten a pretty bad grade. It sounds like you should have gotten the worst grade, actually.”

Priestdaddy’ is published by Penguin, priced at £14.99. Patricia Lockwood will be reading from and discussing the book, as well as her 2013 collection ‘Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals’, at the Bookshop on Monday 24 April. Book tickets here.