Book Review: *The Middle Place* by Kelly Corrigan


  • The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Voice; Reprint edition (December 23, 2008)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401340933
  • Back of the Book BlurbFor Kelly Corrigan, family is everything.  At thirty-six, she had a marriage that worked, two funny, active kids, and a weekly newspaper column.  But even as a thriving adult, Kelly still saw herself as the daughter of garrulous Irish-American charmer George Corrigan.  She was living deep within what she calls the Middle Place–”that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap”–comfortably wedged between her adult duties and her parents’ care.  But Kelly is abruptly shoved into coming-of-age when she finds a lump in her breast–and gets the diagnosis no one wants to hear.  When George, too, learns that he has late-stage cancer, it is Kelly’s turn to take care of the man who had always taken care of her–and to show us a woman who finally takes the leap and grows up.

    She is Too Fond of Books’ review:  You read the synopsis of this book and think, “wow, heavy stuff.”  Yes, it is heavy.  But Kelly Corrigan manages to finesse a memoir about a tumultuous period in her life; there’s even a good amount of humor and light-heartedness in it.  Her focus is three-part: the story of her breast cancer – from discovery, to treatment; a tribute to her father, who is an amazingly positive force in so many lives; and what happens when her beloved father is diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

    We know from the first page, in the Prologue, that George Corrigan looms larger than life in his daughter’s eyes.  She writes:

    The thing you need to know about me is that I am George Corrigan’s daughter, his only daughter.  You may have met him, in which case just skip this part.  If you haven’t, I’ll do what I can to describe him, but really, you should try to meet him.

    The Prologue ends with:

    … that’s what this whole thing is about.  Calling home.  Instinctively.  Even when all the paperwork – a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns – clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.

    Kelly Corrigan alternates chapters about the unfolding of her life in 2004, when she discovered the lump in her breast, with sections about her childhood.  These flashbacks illustrate Kelly’s place in her father’s eyes, her family, and her circle of friends.  The anecdotes from the past show the reader what shaped Kelly into the woman she is, and they temper the emotional chapters that chronicle the illnesses she and her father face.

    I really enjoyed reading The Middle Place. I cried when she discovered the lump, cried again when she missed her daughter’s first day of preschool due to a chemo appointment, cried again … and again; I laughed at her stories of childhood antics with her brothers, I nodded my head as I read about Corrigan’s attempts to protect her daughters from conversations they didn’t need to hear, and smiled when her husband surprised her just when she needed it most.  She seems to have managed (and, indeed, is still managing), with an incredible amount of grace and strength; we never know what we can rise to until we’re faced with a difficult situation:

    I have to pick up my kids.  I have to register them for school.  I have to pack their lunches and get their Hep B shots and wash their hands.  They must be spotted on the stairs and potty trained and broken of the binkie.  And if that relentless work runs right alongside gauging the risks of bladder surgery on a seventy-four-year-old, well, what did you think was gonna happen?  What did you think being an adult was?

    This is exactly what being an adult is – leaving a voice mail for the national expert in urology while scrubbing out the grime that builds up inside the lid of a sippy cup.  Keeping your toddler from opening the bathroom door while you inject a thousand dollars’ worth of Neupogen into your thigh so you can keep up your while blood cell count. Untangling a pink princess boa while wondering if you are a month away from losing both breasts, both ovaries and your father.

    My neighborhood book group discussed The Middle Place this past week, and I want to add some dissenting opinions from the group.  This will tell you that, aside from being an excellent (yes, emotional) read for an individual, there are many ideas to discuss in a group setting.  In fact, Kelly Corrigan’ website does contain a reader’s guide with questions to get you going.

    Some of the women in our book group thought that Corrigan focused on her father to the point of being emotionally unhealthy – that her mother and husband took a backseat to George Corrigan.  Others felt that she was self-centered and, while thriving on the praise and adoration from her father, she wanted/needed it from others. 

    After some thought and discussion, one neighbor responded that ”[my] experience with people who are going through life-threatening medical times, cancer, heart attacks, etc.– is that their energies and focus is necessarily focused on their own bodies and what’s happening to them –medicines, chemo treatments, weight, — all are totally important to them.  I think it may be a mechanism for survival, built into our systems… “  She also wondered if the group would have jumped on a male memoirist this way, if we expect women to always be looking outward and caring only for others, putting ourselves last, while we expect men to brag about their accomplishments and independence.

    I’ve posted this video before, but you may have missed it.  Grab a tissue and watch Kelly deliver a tribute to her girlfriends, the very long (endless) list of people who are transcending with her:

    Read other reviews of The Middle Place at Stephanie’s Written Word and Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?

    20 comments to Book Review: *The Middle Place* by Kelly Corrigan

    • This sounds like such a powerful and emotional read. I really, really want to read it!

    • I’ve come close to buying this book a couple of times. After your review, I think I made a mistake by not buying it.

    • What an amazing post. I’ve already sent it to my best friend, with tears in my eyes. I think that whether we are cancer survivors or not, we can all relate with this. For the cancer survivors I do know, I will be recommending the book. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

    • Dar

      I’ve had my eye on this novel for a while. It sounds powerful and emotional. From what you’ve written it sounds as though it would be a good book club read generating a lot of discussion. I like how you said that we never know what we can rise to until we’re faced with a situation-how true that is.

    • Ti

      I’ve heard mixed things about this one but sometimes these types of books offer up the most discussion.

    • Love the video clip! I almost bought this book before going on vacation, but decided it wasn’t a ‘vacation book’. I still want to read it though.

    • I read this book at the beginning of the year and really enjoyed it – I sure wish I could have been at your book club meeting. I might have given some insight as to how a person going through a life-threatening illness really feels.

    • This sounds good! I’m glad it was a good book club pick as well!

    • Nice cover, nice title, heavy topic. I don’t know why but I am a little scared reading about cancer or any disease for that matter. But I love memoirs, so I might give this a try. Thanks for the review.

    • I am Too Fond of Your Blog! Because of this, I’ve passed an award on to you! Come check it out!

    • Julie – I think it’s very well done! The way she protects her kids really struck me (I can’t give anything away here …)

      Kathy – go back and buy it :)

      Sandy – I think survivors might connect to it. Everyone’s experience is different, but I imagine there is quite a bit of common ground.

      Dar – We didn’t use the discussion guide, but, boy, was there discussion!

      Ti – What kinds of mixed things did you hear? I’ve read only positive reviews, so I was a bit taken aback by some of the judgements I heard the other night!

      JoAnn – I don’t know, you were on the beach in Mexico, right? She has a scene set there.

      Stephanie – The discussion is still going on, in emails around the neighborhood. THE MIDDLE PLACE is honest and open; any memoirist shows the experience from their perspective, which is what I find so appealing … looking out from the eye of the hurricane… really in Corrigan’s case, since she had very little calm before the news of her father’s illness.

      Amy – See above, the discussion continues. I was surprised at some of the strong personal opinions expressed!

      Violet – personal memoir is one of my favorite genres, too. Corrigan is an excellent and honest writer. She doesn’t dwell on things, but she lets you know what’s going on!

      Sandy – thanks! Going now to check it out …

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed this book! Sounds like your book group discussion was fabulous.

    • This sounds like a terrific book. Breast cancer is a very real threat in my own life, given my mother and both of my grandmothers having had it.

    • I want to read this one, especially after your great review!

    • This book sounds so poignant, I think I will have to try to get a copy. Thanks for the great review!

    • And for anyone who missed it, here’s another great Kelly Corrigan video. This one is all about her mom, What Good Mothers Do
      No Kleenex needed for this one, you’ll be laughing!

    • This sounds like an interesting book, and your review is excellent. I’ll have to think about this one, though. For some reason I have a hard time reading about cancer.

    • [...] Mrs. McClure)82. Books & Other Thoughts (Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl)83. She is Too Fond of Books (The Middle Place)84. Petunia (Crossed Wires)85. krin (Spindle’s End)86. krin (Interred With Their Bones)87. [...]

    • I’m glad that she makes this heavy subject matter easy to tackle. I might give this book a second thought…thanks for the review.

    • Donna Friedrich

      This is one of my favorite books. I have passed it on to friends who have loved it too. Wonderful story of a close knit family and continuing on with life in the midst of a difficult situation.
      She also wrote “The Lift” which is my next read.

      I am currently reading “This Time Together” by Carol Burnett. What a wonderfully talented, funny and warm woman.
      It’s a great read!!

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