Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan

"It is one thing to be a man's wife--quite another to be the mother of his children. In fact, once you become a mother, being a wife seems like a game you once played or a self-help book you were overly impressed with as a teenager that on second reading is puffy with common ideas. This was one of many things I had learned since crossing over into the middle place--that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap. One day you're cheering your daughter through a swimming lesson or giving her a pat for crossing the monkey bars or reminding her to say 'please', and the next, you're bragging to your parents about your newest trick--a sweet potato recipe, a raise at work, a fix for your ant problem. It's a giant Venn diagram where you are the only member of both sets." (p. 29)

Oftentimes I get so absorbed in a book, I don't put it down till I finish. Or, I finish it in two settings. Such was the case with Kelly Corrigan's memoir, The Middle Place. I don't often cry as I read books, yet this one had me close to tears for so much of the time, I wasn't afraid to let them spill.
The Middle Place is a book about so many things.

1. It's a memoir about one woman's struggle with breast cancer, and how she copes with raising two toddlers simultaneously.
Corrigan isn't afraid to let her emotions become raw, as she goes to chemotherapy, as she tries to explain her illness to her daughters, ages 3 and 1, as she gets to know the nurses and doctors who treat her. She candidly describes the reactions of some of her daughters' playmates and mothers honestly, and doesn't sugar-coat anything.

2. It's a memoir about how, while Corrigan was going through chemo and radiation, her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Corrigan recalls the anger and sadness, but mostly anger, when she learns of her father's diagnosis. A large portion of the book deals with her guilt at not being in Philadelphia, at home with her parents, as her father goes through chemo and radiation herself. (Corrigan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area). She calls and E-mails various doctors and does not hold back her frustration at what initially seems to be her parents' and brothers' indifference towards her father's disease. (It later turns out that this supposed indifference was a coping mechanism).

3. It's a memoir about father-daughter relationships.
This is what I loved most about this book. Kelly Corrigan takes great pride in being "George Corrigan's daughter." George Corrigan is a man that readers will grow to love throughout the memoir. Here is a man who started off the day by opening the window and shouting, "Hello, World!" Here is a man who is so positive and upbeat that people gravitate toward him. Here is a man who has unconditional love for his daughter. Kelly loves her father so much that she is so afraid of losing him. Her dedication to his care is inspired not only by this, but also, undoubtedly, by her own cancer.

4. It's a memoir about family relationships.
Corrigan recalls a conversation she had with her father about why she did not changer her name to her husband's after she married him. I won't write down the whole text of the conversation, but I will say that she is proud to be a Corrigan, proud to be a part of the loud, boisterous Irish Catholic family that she grew up in.

Corrigan also addresses many of her immediate family's personality quirks, and how they especially affect her during her father's cancer treatment. She is not afraid to hold back on her emotions or opinions, which is one of the reasons why the book is so gripping.

I really enjoyed Corrigan's style. Each chapter altered back and forth between the past and present. One chapter, she wrote about going to the prom with her two brothers. The next chapter, she talks about going into a chemo session. This style enables the reader to understand how her life was shaped, and how these past events continue to shape the person that she is.

As I read, I thought about the relationship between me and my own father. Papa Cat and I are close, but not as close as Kelly and George Corrigan seem to be. I really envied the closeness that these two have. I also thought about how Sister Kitten and I would react if something ever happened to him or Mama Cat.

Which leads me to wonder...

...is there a Middle Place for those who don't have kids? Is there a place where childhood and adulthood overlap, as opposed to solely childhood and parenthood? For people like me, what is that one event, or series of events, that signals that you have permanently crossed into adulthood, and that there's no looking back?

For me, that day will be if and when my parents get too feeble to care for themselves and my sister and I will have to care for them. It could also be, if it ever happens, the day when I marry and have children, but that's a ways away, if it ever occurs.

The Middle Place will have you thinking about your own family, and what your Middle Place might be. It's a book that will stay with you for a long, long time.

P.S. This book also provided resources for those who have family members or friends who have struggled with cancer. Kelly Corrigan is the creator of the website circusofcancer.org, a website that teaches people how to help a friend who has breast cancer. I've read it and believe that this should be a website to teach people how to help friends who have all sorts of cancer. She also has her own website, kellycorrigan.com, which is primarily devoted to promoting The Middle Place, but also has a blog that provides updates on her family. Both are worth checking out, especially the Circus of Cancer site.

***This is my latest entry in my 100+ Book Challenge, my Support Your Local Library Challenge, and my Dewey Decimal Challenge. Click on the buttons in the sidebars for lists and reviews of past entries!***


Franco said...

sounds like a very insightfull book, congrats on your 100th post

Jenners said...

Excellent review! I've heard a lot about this book but I think this was the best review I've read yet! Great job!

Mimi Lenox said...

I'm curious. Do you like Pat Conroy's books? I love his tales of southern family life....insane as it is.