This book was read as part of the MotherTalk Book Club and Salon, fostering great discussions with readers
The Middle Place talks about that time in your life where you are both someone’s child and someone’s parent. Author Kelly Corrigan is specifically talking about that time when you are new to parenting and you still feel a strong identity to “home” being where your parents live, and instinctively calling your parents to get their approval. As we start The Middle Place, Kelly is living on the west coast with her husband and two young daughters, while her parents live on the east coast. Kelly has just started into the world of balancing being a loving, attentive daughter and a loving, attentive mother.
Kelly weaves a beautiful story about her love for her family through conversations, emails, thoughts, and flashbacks to her childhood. While she has a very close relationship with her mother and two older brothers, she is very attached to her father, George. Greenie (or any of her father’s many nicknames) is an exuberant, gregarious, and optimistic man who loves his youngest child (and only daughter) very much. There’s a sweetness in the father-daughter relationship that lacks the strain inherent in mother-daughter relationships. Just as I think awwww when I see my daughters with my husband, I felt Kelly’s strong love for her father throughout the book. In fact, as soon as I finished it, I called my dad and my step-dad to tell them I loved them.
While all of us deal with being in The Middle Place when we start having children, not everyone experiences the crisis Kelly and her family went through. Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then a short time later her father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Kelly’s family had rallied around her, flying out to California to help her and to care for her young daughters Claire and Georgia. However, because of her own treatments, she can’t fly back to the east coast to rally around her father as he goes through similar cancer treatments. George and Kelly have so many deep connections, and while phone conversations helped, you could still feel her sadness over not being physically present.
I’ve known several people with breast cancer, and known even more dealing with other forms of cancer, including my grandmother and her husband. Reading The Middle Place really showed me the emotional and physical cost of the cancer treatments, but in a personal way, not dry and clinical. Kelly’s writing evoked laughter and tears as I read about fun times in her childhood juxtaposed with her reactions to chemo and radiation. While I knew intellectually that it was possible for me to get breast cancer, I felt very removed from the possibility. It wasn’t until I read The Middle Place that it really clicked for me. I could really relate to an author who was my age, with young daughters, brown hair, and glasses, plus a father who really enjoys life and nicknames! This isn’t a memoir that will scare you, though – it was actually quite comforting that Kelly, who admits to being “not stoic”, could deal with everything that was thrown at her. If she can manage to juggle everything, we can probably handle a couple of balls in the air, too.
Kelly has written a memoir that will live in your heart. It feels like I’ve known her family forever, and I kept wanting to scream, “me too!” about all the 1970s and 1980s memories. However, my brother never bought a snake! While my chronic illness isn’t cancer, I have been laid low for 2 years, and I could also understand when Kelly wanted to do things but couldn’t, and hated disappointing her daughters, husband, and parents. The Middle Place is written so beautifully, it intermingles the serious with the silly and the painful with the playful. Cancer is serious business, but Kelly reminds us that no one can be serious constantly.
I am becoming a big fan of memoirs, and this one is fabulous. The Middle Place is engrossing, engaging, and Kelly Corrigan and her family really leap off the page. I really enjoyed her tone, when she was positive and when she was not, it all felt very honest. This isn’t just a memoir about breast cancer, it’s also a tribute to a wonderful family and a beautiful father-daughter relationship. I highly recommend reading The Middle Place, and then taking your dad out for coffee!