Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

A few years ago it seemed like every book club but mine was reading this book so it hit my radar, but not enough to search it out. Still, I heard good things and when I ran across it, I had to pick it up. And when I was looking for a memoir to read that would be lighter in tone, the quote on the front calling it "funny and irresistibly exuberant" sucked me in.

It's interesting to call a book about cancer funny, and now that I've read it, I wouldn't go that far. She does have a light tone and a few things are amusing, but I didn't find it funny.

A Mom to two young girls and hoping for many more, when Kelly finds a lump in the shower, she is lucky that her ob/gyn is a neighbor and she bundles the girls in their pajamas over to the doctor's house for a quick check. the doctor says one characteristic is good, one bad, and schedules her for a mammogram right away. Kelly's husband is out of town on a business trip so she goes alone. But when she is told to immediately get a biopsy, he flies right home and is with her for the diagnosis and doesn't leave her side throughout all the treatments: surgery, chemo, radiation.

But Kelly really wants her father, affectionately known as Greenie. A stalwart figure throughout her life, and dozens of others, he's a gregarious, outgoing salesman who never met a stranger and never met a problem. He had prostate and bladder cancer in the past, so he'd understand what Kelly is going through. She didn't anticipate that her father's bladder cancer would recur shortly after her own diagnosis, meaning they were going through similar treatments around the same time.

Every other chapter of the book flashes back to Kelly's childhood, mostly her teenage years as the youngest sister of two older brothers in the 1980s, and going on through her young adulthood and meeting her husband. But her family was never far away. Even when she moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco, they never seem far away.

I am very happy that in Ms. Corrigan's new book, she seems to appreciate her mother more, because in this book she feels overlooked and underappreciated even though she's the one who gets things done. Kelly's father is the fun and friendly one, but her mother is the one who organizes everything, pays for everything, and does the disciplining when they are kids and babysitting when they are adults. Kelly does talk about the changing roles--from daughter to mother--and how she sees her mothers differently, more sympathetically. But it always comes back to her father. Possibly that's partly because she is so fearful for his life. Sometimes she even lets that overpower her fears for her own life (or uses it as an excuse for ignoring her own life-threatening condition.)

This quick book was easy to relate to (even for someone without kids who hasn't had cancer) and Kelly has a friendly voice that makes you feel like she's a long-lost friend. I appreciated her honesty, her struggles, and most of all her husband who always had her back (and also seems a little overlooked, like her mother.) Greenie was fun and I did like hanging out with him, but it is interesting that the characters I was most drawn to were portrayed more as background, yet they were the backbone of the family Luckily Ms. Corrigan's storytelling was encompassing enough to give a flattering picture of everyone, not just her father, as awesome as he is. Because sometimes the Fun Dad can only be that way because the Strict Mom is behind him all the way.

I got this book free at a book swap.


Jillian said...

I totally agree with you that this memoir was such an easy book to relate to, even though the situations are obviously things I am not going through. She told her story very well, in a way that holds her reader's attention. It was a good read, and I found it a bit inspiring actually.

Booksnyc said...

Her new book focuses on her mother and the fact that her Dad was the "glitter" in the family while her Mom was the "glue". It is definitely her mother's glue that allows Greenie to be the glitter. I am looking forward to reading Middle Place after enjoying Glitter and Glue so much.