Back of the Book Blurb: For 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: