These days, it seems that everyone wants to write a memoir, but let's face it not everyone should. Kelly Corrigan is the exception, and her memoir, The Middle Place, arrives on the scene with an emphatic Hello, world! In 2004, both Corrigan and her father were diagnosed with cancer, and The Middle Place is an account of what follows. Much more than a recovery memoir or coming-of-age story, it is about being a parent and a child at the same time, a portrait of what it feels like to stand with one foot in each world as Corrigan describes it, that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap. Corrigan's beloved father, George, is a larger-than-life character who literally greets each day by throwing open the windows and exclaiming Hello, world! He's Irish-Catholic, a lacrosse fanatic and coach, and the quintessential salesman. Corrigan's relationship with her father not only shapes who she is, but serves as a touchstone as she makes her way through their respective battles with late-stage cancer.
In the first chapter, Corrigan describes the moment she first discovers the lump in her breast, and then the journey she embarks upon as her worst fears are realized. Descriptions of her treatment are contrasted with pitch-perfect vignettes of domestic life as the mother of two young daughters and wife of an adoring (and adorable) husband. She alternates these with stories from her Catholic upbringing in Philadelphia, seamlessly weaving together past and present.
Whether recounting a particularly funny episode from childhood involving her brother's boa constrictor or the time when she had a friend pre-emptively shave her head during chemo, Corrigan infuses her prose with vivacity and humor. She explores that process called growing up, and how it can happen in a defining moment, like a lightning strike, but also how it is illuminated in less dramatic ones, like flickers of heat lightning in a summer sky. And if you happen to be George, otherwise known as Kelly Corrigan's father, you embrace it all, not gingerly, but with a bear hug.