Cover image for What to wear to see the Pope
What to wear to see the Pope
Lehner, Christine, 1952-
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers ; [Berkeley, Calif.] : Distributed by Publishers Group West, 2004.
Physical Description:
210 pages ; 22 cm
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The Codwell family is a jovial, tight-knit clan that dines together often and for whom dinner table conversation is repartee as art form. But subtext runs deep, patience wears thin, and recriminations run rampant. A conflicted Catholic and amateur linguist, Ursula Codwell's passion for saints and semantics is surpassed only by the affection she feels for her family--and that includes her precious bulldog. Brought up in what she refers to as the "fraught and schizoid tradition of Belgian Catholicism," Ursula is herself rather fraught and schizoid, personality traits that often threaten to overwhelm her children and her ostensibly tolerant Unitarian husband ("What he generally had to say about the saints was not worth repeating"), not to mention herself. Her indecisiveness and excessive attention to detail lead her to become fixated on matters such as what to wear to see the Pope when he comes to her hometown in New York's Hudson Valley or reclaiming her surgically removed teratomas from the pathology lab. Reminiscent of Allegra Goodman's The Family Markowitz, Christine Lehner's What to Wear to See the Pope is a dead-on portrait of fragile family connections and crises of the soul, brought to life in ten wonderful interconnected stories.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ursula Codwell is obsessed with saints, her drippy-eyed bulldog Saint Joan, her teenaged son's minimalist vocabulary (with "chill" as an anchor), the exact fruit that may have been the apple in the Garden of Eden and much more idiosyncratic minutiae. The narrator also has two tumors and a cyst removed; these extractions more or less bookend this collection of 10 interconnected stories, but are told in the same wool-gathering, navel-gazing style that, depending on your threshold for sitting in someone else's bathwater, either delight or tire, or more likely, actively stir both responses, often on the same page. Questions abound in Lehner's highly contextual stories: What is the weight of an arm? Was Fran?ois Villon hanged or did he just disappear? And, well, what to wear to see the pope? Meanwhile, the book sits in traffic on some of the larger emotional questions: What keeps Ursula and husband Gus together besides their communal love for debate? Why does her life feel defined by the shapes of other people's lives, especially those who may not have even existed? These stories are punctuated by epiphanies-as in "The Phantom Limb," when Ursula says, "It's becoming clear to me that tumors... are all psychosomatic, or least they're outgrowths of mental states"-but Ursula, like so many of her beloved saints, remains a mystery. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Twins. Againp. 1
Still Saigonp. 21
What to Wear to See the Popep. 49
Souvenir Staplesp. 65
Traffic Court, or Ecumenical Outragep. 83
Why the French?p. 113
The Knifep. 125
The Phantom Limbp. 151
Lost in the Mailp. 173
The Merits of Batsp. 195