Waiting for the Apocalypse is the hilarious yet tragic story of the author’s family, whose father, distraught by the Catholic Church reforms of the Vatican II Council, decides to abruptly move his large family (6 children at that point, under 12 years of age!) from the San Francisco Bay Area to… Portugal, where he just knows he will find a more conservative church tradition. His plan is perfect, starting with a cheap charter flight to England which, as everyone knows, is right next door to Portugal, and when they do get to Portugal they find that Vatican II is even more entrenched than in the US, so after a couple years of near-starvation (American policemen don’t seem to be in high demand in Portugal for some reason) they move back and continue to seek a more conservative church, as more children are born and more bread is added to the meatloaf.
I just loved this book. All the details ring true, from the dread of the newfangled Handshake of Peace during mass to the no-thanks letter from the police department of Lourdes, France (the dad’s initial destination), from the relief of being back in California (on 880 of all places, but with the weather forecast firmly stuck on low clouds overnight, then sunny) to the craziness of carpooling with a teenage boy whose idea of a normal speed is 100 mph. There’s fun poked at the church, but it’s gentle. There’s fun poked at the father, even some serious criticism of decisions made or not made, but the author has made her peace with her family and clearly loves her mother, who literally kept the family together while never deviating from perfect obedience to her husband and the church.
This book brought to mind My Life in Orange, a throat-tightening memoir of a boy growing up with a mother seduced by gurus, and Drop City (thanks to Larry for reminding me of the title), a novel about California communes, which both show how good people can lose their way seeking an ideal life. Read this book and perhaps read them all.