Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Middle Place

I don't share Jenny's aversion to so-called "chick lit," and having had a sister with breast cancer I was interested in reading Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place. It's a memoir of sorts detailing her personal story of how she fought breast cancer while at the same time her father (whom she idolized and is basically the center of her universe) was diagnosed with bladder cancer. More than a cancer story, however, it's a story of how becoming an adult means living in two worlds at once -- the world where you are the child who still needs her parents, and the world where you are the parent and everything you do revolves around your own children -- in other words, being in The Middle Place.

Things I liked about it:

- Corrigan knows how to tell a story. She draws the reader into the story with her strong voice, sense of immediacy, and intuitive way of making connections and stringing the stories together.

- She has profound insights and a way of articulating those experiences that give us meaning and identity, but which are hard to define or name.

- She speaks with a great deal of honesty, even portraying herself and those she loves in a negative light in order to really flush out the truth. As a result, it feels sincere and true even when I disagreed with her.

- She avoided oversentimentality. Though she discussed love and family and death and loss, it was done without drowning in catharsis. Instead, there was almost an edge to it, but an edge that I could identify with.

Things I didn't like about it:

- Lots of bad language and sex. Really, I didn't need that. I like honesty and all, but that doesn't mean that I need to have every last f-word replayed for me. It was way too much, and felt like she was insensitive to her audience.

- I didn't like her. I kept trying, but I just couldn't. Even though I could relate to many of the things she shared, I couldn't help but be irritated by her. Idolizing her dad so much grated on my nerves, her crassness was tacky and in bad taste, and I disagreed with a lot of her liberal and anti-faith sentiments. The more I got to know her, the more I just plain didn't like her.

But even as I write that, I can't help but remember some of the thoughts she shared about motherhood, marriage, and family that resonated so strongly with my own feelings and almost made up for the parts when she bugged me. So I have conflicting feelings about it. Overall I was glad I finished it (I almost didn't), but wouldn't ever read it again or recommend it to someone else.


  1. I have to agree the father-devotion was WAY over the top in this book. Kind of made me uncomfortable. I liked the book well enough, author does some nice writing, but I had expected to really love it and just didn't. As alway, nice review Caren. :)

  2. I've been thinking about this lately and I've figured out that I don't hate chick lit. I hate fluff books geared towards women. I have dozens of books that I consider my very most favorite books of all time that all have female characters and stories about women that show their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, relationships and loves. I don't have a thing against books about women or their lives. I have an aversion to books that have male-bashing, pettiness, obsession with worldliness or just are stupid. I probably used the term "chick lit" way too liberally.

    On that note, I'll skip this book. Loved Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, though.