Kelly Corrigan's THE MIDDLE PLACE is a book about family --- about calling home, being home, returning home and making a home.
In the midst of giving her two little girls a bath one evening, Corrigan discovered a large lump on her breast. Thereon hangs the tale of her own and her father's shared battle with cancer. Because, of course, her father is included in everything that happens to her. Greenie, as she calls him, and Lovey, as he calls her, are a team. He's a retired salesman, an active Lacrosse coach, and a Catholic, devout enough to pop into the church any old time, not just on Sundays. She's a wife, mother and writer, trying to find her position in "the middle place" --- that space between being a competent parent and still having parents of one's own to please and impress.
This book is not so much about cancer, though that is a central theme, as it is about the relationship between Corrigan and her remarkable father, and about exploring the realm of family in its farthest reaches. Greenie is a raconteur, and she obviously inherited his gift of gab.
THE MIDDLE PLACE jumps between the current issue of the lump with all that it implies, and absorbing, often amusing flashbacks to Corrigan's early encounters with boys, her travels overseas, her courtship and marriage, her struggles to make a go as a business person, her successes as a writer, childbirths, parties and a full life always punctuated by calls home. When she discovers that Greenie has a second recurrence of cancer, and then a third, she concentrates much of her dynamic energy on his treatment while continuing her own struggle against the disease: "pain and fear, fear and pain, alternating relentlessly…yesterday I took eighteen pills in twenty-four hours." So the "middle place" begins to alter, as the thirty-something daughter with so much to prove to her parents becomes the protector and caregiver for them; in short, the child becomes an adult.
One of the more poignant scenes in a book that is strongly permeated with emotional images comes when the author, guided by a counselor, forces herself to imagine Greenie's funeral. For her readers, as for Corrigan, the possibility of his passing is nearly insupportable. He is a force of life, a man anyone would want for a dad.
Greenie and Lovey have appeared on television as a father-daughter survivor team. THE MIDDLE PLACE is published by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion that focuses on women over 30 who balance career and family. Corrigan could be the poster woman for that balance. Between fighting her own disease and seeking optimal care for Greenie, and the occasional party with good friends and the daily grind and endless joy of childcare, she has maintained her writing career, completed this book and created CircusOfCancer.org, offering advice to friends of women with breast cancer.
There are few females whose lives are not affected by breast cancer. I have a friend who is battling it now, and my mother died of the disease years ago. It is inspiring to all of us to have accounts like THE MIDDLE PLACE, reminding us that even on bad days, good things can happen, and that the person is not the illness: your mother, sister, wife or friend is still in there waiting for your phone call, email or visit. Corrigan’s own personal cheering section spurred her on, and she has passed that encouragement along.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 7, 2011