Viewed & Reviewed

Are You In The Middle Place?

Just in case you’ve been living your complicated lives and haven’t been paying attention to the latest literary scandals, here’s what’s been happening. During the last month, two critically admired memoirs - one
the gritty account by young woman detailing her life as a gang member in South Central L.A., the other the tale of a child suckled by wolves as she hid out in a forest after her parents were spirited away by the Nazis - have been exposed as hoaxes. Never happened. Throw into this mix the very real and truly harrowing accounts by a father and son of the boy’s meth addiction and you’ve got a sense of what’s current in memoir land.


But wait. At a time when memoirs are often either sappy exercises in
sentimentality or specious journeys into degradation – not to mention
simply fake – along comes Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, to remind
us what the genre can really be. At 33, Corrigan, happily married
suburban writer/mother of two tiny daughters, adored daughter of a man
who believes everything she does is simply fabulous, wakes up to
discover she has breast cancer. Almost at the same time, she learns
that the father she worships, who lives three thousand miles away, has
himself been diagnosed with prostate and then bladder cancer.
Alternating between chapters that move through the path of her illness,
from diagnosis through surgery and chemo and radiation, and those that
track her coming of age, from adored only daughter to rebellious teen,
adventuresome young adult, to adoring but sometimes frustrated mother,
the book grapples with the complexities of what it means to be an
adult. There’s drama galore here as Corrigan copes not just with her
own illness but with her father’s as well, at the same time she
carpools her kids, makes sure they’re fed and bathed, rides out their
tantrums, and tries to hang on to her sanity and her hope.


This is no sappy tale of unremitting grace under pressure. Though often
very funny, Corrigan is not afraid of real emotion or of revealing
unpretty things about herself. But she scoffs at sentimentality. She
wants to be “completely real, not a cancer ambassador, not a patient
representative, not ‘an inspiration.’” Instead, she makes vivid the
possibility that amidst the daily-ness of diapers and sippy cups and
car pools, of date nights and disappointments with one’s partner,
“arbitrary danger exists and it can come get any of us anytime it wants
for no reason at all.” Toward the end of The Middle Place, while
attending the funeral of a family friend, Corrigan imagines her
father’s service. “I go last. I am the lucky girl who gets to say, ‘I
was George Corrigan’s daughter,’ and the rest is good and the words do
as much as words can do, and then it’s over…we pack up the girls and
get on the plane. I keep going … I unpack our bags in the home I’ve
made for us. I do the laundry, line up a playdate, return a call about
the new dishwasher I ordered. I change the sheets on the guest bed. I
imagine my head on a wet pillow staring across at Edward, who has no
words left for these latest tears. Eventually, I hear Claire call out
in the morning. I put a waffle in the toaster; I wash strawberries, I
suck a drop of syrup off Georgia’s fingertip. I keep going, with those
eyes looking up at me like I know what to do and I can make everything
better. And just like every other person who has buried his childhood,
I grow up.”


What is it that let’s us know, sometimes as quickly as the first page,
we want to live in a book, to go along on the journey it sets out for
us? Especially with a memoir, what makes us willing to surrender our
cherished time with a writer is her voice. Kelly Corrigan’s voice –
smart, witty, unfailingly honest and, perhaps most unusual of all,
essentially happy – compels our attention and makes us glad we had a
chance to know her.


This is a fantastic book that captures an experience that feels unique to our "sandwich generation." There are rave reviews for this book all over the web. Indeed, the only bad review Amazon posts for this book is written by someone that loathed Eat, Prey, Love. Given that I am a huge fan of that book, it is not surprising that I strongly disagree with the negative review.