Online Book Club: THE MIDDLE PLACE by Kelly Corrigan

Welcome to the first “meeting” of the Everyday I Write The Book Blog book club!

This is an experiment with an online book club, which I first learned about from the DC Metro Moms blog, to which I contribute a few times a month. Here’s how it works: a group of people read the same book, one person writes a kickoff review on a blog, and everyone else participates in the discussion through the blog’s comments field.  Hyperion was kind enough to provide review copies of The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan, to any EDIWTB reader who wanted to participate.  Depending on how this goes today, I might like to try this regularly, either with books that we get from publishers or with other books that we’d all have to get on our own.

So… on to the review.

Hyperion sent me my first copy of The Middle Place a couple of months ago, and I took a cursory look at it and decided it wasn’t for me. I ended up giving it away on my blog. Then they approached me about doing an online book club around it, and sent me a second copy, which of course I read. Boy am I glad I did.

The Middle Place is named for that fragile time of life when you’re still someone’s child, but you’re also someone’s parent. The time when you’re mostly an adult, making adult decisions and learning what it’s like to be responsible for someone other than yourself, but also still craving the comfort and approval of your parents. Kelly Corrigan, the author of The Middle Place, felt the fragility of this time even more acutely than many of us might when both she and her father were diagnosed with cancer at the same time.  The book is the account of her battle with breast cancer and her father’s parallel bout with bladder cancer, and all of the ripples the disease caused in their relationship with each other and the rest of the people in their lives.

When I gave the book away at first, I think it’s because I feared it would be a support guide, a “you can do it!” cheerleader for people with cancer. I saw an Oprah book… maybe ultimately a Lifetime movie. I was wrong. The Middle Place is honest, readable and incredibly moving, without being maudlin, saccharine or heavy-handed. Corrigan’s writing is pitch-perfect. Her eye for detail is remarkable – she re-creates scenes in such a way that you feel like you were in the room watching them play out. She includes a lot of memories about her early, pre-married, pre-cancer life, but these are not extraneous. Each of these stories adds a dimension to her depiction of her very special relationship with her father.

If — god forbid — a close friend were diagnosed with cancer – The Middle Place is like the transcript of the phone calls or emails you might exchange. Corrigan is so likeable – and so human – you feel like you really know her by the end of the book. Here’s a passage I really liked:

This is exactly what being an adult is – leaving a voice mail for the national expert in urology while scrubbing out the grime that builds up inside the lid of a sippy cup. Keeping your toddler from opening the bathroom door while you inject a thousand dollars’ worth of Neupogen into your thigh so you can keep up your white blood cell count.  Untangling a pink princess boa while wondering if you are a month away from losing both breasts, both ovaries, and your father.

In many ways, The Middle Place is a straightforward book. It’s ultimately about fear and acceptance and keeping perspective. Maybe it doesn’t lend itself that well to a book club format, where readers often analyze themes and tone and language and character development.  This is non-fiction, about a very challenging time in the author’s life. But don’t get me wrong – it’s an excellent book. It’s a quick but very satisfying and compelling read. I’d recommend it to anyone – whether or not they’ve been touched by cancer (and who hasn’t, these days?).  The book is due out in January and I hope it’s a great success for Corrigan, whom I believe deserves accolades for so bravely and honestly opening up her life to others.

I have deliberately not discussed the outcome of the book so as not to give too much away.

OK, readers – your turn. Please weigh in – what did you think of the book?   Also, remember that Kelly Corrigan has agreed to answer reader questions in an upcoming Q&A on this blog, so as you’re commenting, please also include any questions you’d like her to answer.

18 Comments

  • December 10, 2007 - 1:12 am | Permalink

    I absolutely loved this book, and I don’t say this often. I admit I had some of your feelings – I usually don’t read non-fiction or memoirs, and wasn’t sure if I could relate to this, so I am so glad I simply jumped at the chance to participate anyway. I could barely put it down.
    Even though I am fortunate my family doesn’t have health issues right now, I could so relate to the “middle place.” Even with two kids I sometimes have to remind myself that I am an adult, and I feel like I’ve been weaning myself from turning to my parents with my problems.
    Her writing style was wonderful, I loved that paragraph you quote, but one of my favorites was the one that started in Paris and ended with her having the baby. How she was not stoic, that was just great to read.
    I hope to chime in again tomorrow and think of some questions.

  • December 10, 2007 - 3:51 am | Permalink

    This is one of those rare books where I saw real talent in the writing style and where the story is compelling enough to be told.
    I admit that I went through a similar hesitation you did – “will this be some stereotypical chick-lit thing?” – but this book is so much more than the cookie-cutters on the shelf.
    My review is here: http://www.karianna.us/reviews/2007/12/the_middle_place.html
    I am glad I had the chance to receive the book. Thank you Gayle, and thank you Kelly!

  • Karen
    December 10, 2007 - 7:38 am | Permalink

    I, like Gayle, was worried that this would be one of those sappy reads that I would walk away from angry that I spent time on. Admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised. Corrigan’s writing style is very similar to mine and I felt like I was having a conversation with a friend, not really reading. It was almost a stream of consciousness experience which I find very fulfilling.
    Through her writing I was able to compose a clear picture of her life events (down to what I think her children look like) and feel her emotions as she met every challenge, cancer related or not, head on. I admire her honesty for putting things like her feelings about her parent’s relationship out there for us to read. The raw emotion that is present when she finds out her fertility situation was especially touching and something that many of us single over 30 girls fear. It seemed like at every turn there was something that made her more likeable.
    While I’m not in the “middle place” that Corrigan was in with the parent issue, I think everyone can think of their own middle place and apply the thought pattern.

  • rissa winkelman
    December 10, 2007 - 7:57 am | Permalink

    I loved the book. I was very touched by the relationship between kelly and her family.
    Although cancer was the” problem” in the book, the things that often touched my heart were the everyday issues that touched their lives. When her mother says that sixth grade was her worst year (talking about Kelly’s sixth grade) I can remember the pain a mother feels when a child is hurting. When she holds her first-born and asks her mother if she loved her this much. Her mother’s response is “It’s something, isn’t it?”
    What beautiful everyday experiences that we have all shared.
    I would absolutely recommend this book to others. It is very readable. I did not want to put it down.
    Wish I still owned a book store so that I could sell it like crazy.

  • December 10, 2007 - 9:47 am | Permalink

    I’m writing from Kelly’s publisher, Voice, an imprint of Hyperion. Thank you all for reading the book! I just wanted to share a link to the trailer that Kelly put together for The Middle Place: http://www.everywomansvoice.com/?q=node/275

  • December 10, 2007 - 12:02 pm | Permalink

    This book was charming!
    I adored the idea of “middle place” and Corrigan articulated the challenge that many of us probably feel as we transition to wife, mother, caregiver and away from child, dependent and “little girl.” While I’ve never had cancer and am not a mother, Corrigan’s words really resonated with me.
    I enjoyed her wit and her honesty. I loved the little stories shared throughout the book. For example, when she talked openly about trying to “befriend” the woman at her chemo and struggling with drinking way more than the allotted amount for cancer patients. Little jems of insight into her and her struggle.
    Like everyone else, I adore the relationship with her parents. I also enjoy her report of being a mother!
    My question is this–Obviously her parents were supportive of her writing the book. But I still wonder about the anxiety level Kelly felt knowing her mother was reading her words. The story is so honest, I can see that it would be painful at parts. Moreover, did her family remember things the same way? I’d love to know what types of conversations took place upon reading the book!
    I’m so glad Kelly told her story! I’m sharing it with my mother and grandmother over the holidays.

  • December 10, 2007 - 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Like so many of the reviews and comments made previously, I found this book to be a lovely celebration of family, relationships, and love.
    What a beautiful acknolwedgment that many of us find ourselves in that “middle place” of life; the time where we are a parent to our children and still live to be “taken care of” by our own parents for as long as possible. I selfishly agree with Kelly on this point and so many others in her book.
    Having young daughters myself, what I especially liked about the book was Kelly’s memories of her classic mother-daughter conflicts and how her views had changed now that she is a mother herself. Kelly truly depicts the full circle of dependency, independence, and return to that parental “safe harbor” of love.
    My complete review can be found at Go-Go Mommy.
    http://gogoma.typepad.com/go_go_mommy/
    Thank you for a great book Kelly! You rock!

  • Amy
    December 10, 2007 - 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Kelly Corrigan’s writing style, openness and incredible sense of humor made this a book I could NOT put down. Her words so candidly brought me into her relationships and experiences, warts and all, as though we were the best of friends (which I would love to be if I can’t get adopted by her family…).
    A truly stunning book.

  • December 10, 2007 - 4:09 pm | Permalink

    As the child of a breast cancer survivor, I found Kelly’s book to be a heartbreaking and at times a very raw emotional journey that her story in a way which mothers and daughter, fathers and sons could all relate to. For a long time (and probably still some of the time even now) I had no concrete and tangible understanding of my mother’s cancer. It’s hard to watch any parent deal with a serious illness and although I don’t have children, Kelly’s writing helped me to understand better what my mother’s feelings and thoughts were like during this time.
    I thoroughly enjoyed each and every chapter and appreciated that her writing did not focus on the negative aspects of cancer: the mammograms, chemo treatments, biopsies and nausea. But instead, beautifully elaborated on a family history told through Kelly’s personal experience which all lead up to a moment of panic, of crisis… as if the structure of her family had been built for that exact moment. Both for she and her father.
    I would be interested to know if Kelly had any intention of the book becoming an anthem for cancer survivors and their families or if she was simply looking to relay her personal experiences?
    Also, from a writing standpoint I’m curious as to how Kelly selected the vignette memories that occur between present experiences. Was the process easy? Was she able to just glance back in memory and come up with circumstances or experiences that reminded her of what she was going through in the present? I’m interested in that process – the looking back to better expand upon the present and the future. The cyclical nature of that style of writing. What was easy about it, what was difficult?
    I may still come up with a few more questions to post. I truly enjoyed this book, and like Gayle I was a bit skeptical at first, but I couldn’t have been more delighted and overwhelmed and happy and sad (in good ways) all at once. Bravo.

  • Stacy B.
    December 10, 2007 - 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I got a stern look from my husband, who asked me what I was reading about when I picked up “The Middle Place.” Becuase he likes to see me be positive after some recent health problems of our own, he often gives me a hard time when he thinks I’m reading something that sounds depressing or hits a little too close to home. I’m glad I didn’t let a first impression stop me, and, like most of you, I couldn’t put it down once I started. The thing about it was that it wasn’t depressing at all. Instead it was a powerful story about love and family and the thought of losing love or family.
    Honest is the best word I can think of to describe Kelly Corrigan and her writing. She was upfront and straightforward about her cancer and her feelings about her own illness, as well as her father’s. Most importantly, she had the perspective and wisdom to see her own faults at different points. That takes good writing. I will have to send along some questions for her about writing autobiography the way she does.
    Corrigan also did an incredible job of making both of her parents into some of the most well-drawn characters I’ve read this year. She had years of intimate knowledge of her father’s personality, quirks, manners and way of living, and she truly brought him to life. Her portrayal of her mother was more subtle, just like her mother.

  • December 10, 2007 - 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Well, now you’ve really done it. My head is so big I won’t be able to get through the door of my office to serve my kids dinner.
    This is the very first time I’ve had actual readers comment on the book and I was very nervous. Feeling like you guys really get me.
    Happy to answer all the questions you come up with. Will talk to Gayle about how best to do that.
    In the meantime, I think you’ll like this little thing I made in iMovie and if you have friends who are curious about the book, this is an easy way to tell them about it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXe5K4vNvSA
    Hey, I gotta go watch ELF with Georgia and Claire. I promised.
    More soon.
    Kelly Corrigan
    http://www.kellycorrigan.com

  • Josie M
    December 10, 2007 - 9:24 pm | Permalink

    I agree with what everyone else has said thus far. It was one of those rare books where I wanted to read it quickly to find out what happens next, yet at the same time wanted to read it slowly so that it didn’t end too soon. I have a new appreciation for my own parents now and can’t wait to share the book with them over the holidays.
    My favorite passage was the one where Kelly was talking about her mom as her front row audience and cheering her on in her own life play. She was sad thinking about what her mom could miss out on if something happened. THough I don’t have any kids, it made me think about how sad I’d be if I didn’t have my mom as my own personal cheerleader- the one who cares about the mundane things in my life that is really what makes up life in general.
    I read this book while on jury duty and several times found myself laughing out loud one minute and then holding back the tears the next. I’m sure the other jurors couldn’t figure out what was going on or what I was reading.
    I loved getting to know her brothers and parents through her stories. The fact her dad calls her “lovey” is adorable and their mutual love for each other is so refreshing.
    I can only hope she has more books to come.

  • December 10, 2007 - 9:39 pm | Permalink

    You know how you read a book and you feel like you could hang out with this person and drink a beer? I was feeling it.
    I think the most compelling thing about The Middle Place is its power to take this terrifying time in Kelly’s life and have it be so readable and so raw. This was a difficult book for me to read because Kelly’s father reminded me so much of my own. My father, for whom all things are possible. Having taken care of him at a time in his life when he was ill, I felt like this book took me back to that time. And while he subsequently recovered, it is still so scary to think about ever going back to that place. You’ll cry when you read it. There is no way you can’t.

  • Jude
    December 11, 2007 - 1:43 pm | Permalink

    The best writing makes you identify with characters with whom you otherwise have nothing in common. Someone once told me that “Lolita,” with its pedophile protagonist, is the greatest book ever written for precisely this reason. Well, high on any list of things that I am NOT are: (a) a parent, (b) a cancer survivor and (c) a female (in the interest of full disclosure, I am an Irish-Catholic who enjoys a beer or five), and yet, I identified with Kelly through large parts of the book. It strikes me that this is no small feat, given the non-fiction, female-centric nature of the topics discussed and clause (c) above. I think much of that has to do with the writing, which managed to be economical and complex at the same time, and with the broader themes, which transcended demographics in a way that would not be obvious at first glance.
    The description also felt just right–not enough to drag down the flow of the book, but enough to feel, as another post said, like you were in the room. I also really liked the balance between sad moments, funny moments (especially, forgive me, when Kelly got mad at her husband for no good reason) and poignant moments. I thought that would be nearly impossible given the subjects (and the failure of legions of other writers to pull it off), and I was amazed that Kelly was able to do it.
    I’m curious, given the recent troubles that some memoirists have run into, how much of the book is true (in the sense that it actually happened as “reported” in the book), and how much of it is covered with the patina of hindsight, rose-colored or otherwise? On a related note, when did you decide to write the book–around the time of diagnosis, or on some other timeline? Finally, I’m curious about your writing process from a schedule perspective–do you set aside a certain amount of time every day, every week, etc., or does it just happen when it happens?
    Thanks for writing this book, Kelly. I really enjoyed it, and I know that plenty of other people will as well.

  • December 11, 2007 - 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I too truly enjoyed this book. Yes, it’s about a woman’s struggle with breast cancer, but there’s more than just that. It’s about the circle of life. How we go thru stages in our life – baby, adult, elderly, and how with each stage who we are and how we interact with the other stages goes. It’s about family being family.
    It’s about courage to write about a personal issue.
    Full review is over at http://yup-anotherreviewblog.blogspot.com/

  • TLB
    December 11, 2007 - 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for an entertaining comment, Jude.
    I also enjoyed this book for the most part, specifically the conversational tone; the self-deprecating humor; the multiple references to being the parent of small children (that passage about cleaning sippy cup lid grime really stuck with me! (Am I really the same person who was obsessed with The Grapes of Wrath at one time?)).
    What a great portrait of her father – he is really someone I want to hang out with now!
    I appreciated the unromantic, unheroic way she described her diagnosis and treatment – the mundane details of life-changing moments. Her sarcasm and sharp tone were refreshing.
    But at times, I felt bogged down in the minutiae and wished for more reflection. Perhaps that is a drawback of memoirs in general.
    A good read – I looked forward to picking it up but was not obsessed.
    Loving the online book club!!!
    Some questions (not all book/writing-related):
    1) I am sure you had feelings of anger when you were diagnosed – how did you deal with this in front of your children?
    2) I have heard that for some women the most emotionally trying time is after intensive treatment has ended – they may feel as though they are not doing anything proactive to prevent recurrence – have you found this is the case?
    3) Was writing the memoir cathartic/therapeutic or did it start to seem like a chore after a while?

  • Karen H.
    December 13, 2007 - 11:41 am | Permalink

    Like the other readers who have posted so far, I also found this book to be a quick read. I particularly like Kelly’s writing style. She seems to write effortlessly (which means she obviously put tremendous effort into the writing). Her conversational tone strikes just the right balance between storytelling wit and reflection.
    That being said, I would not rush out to recommend this book to all of my friends. I think the reason that I enjoyed the book was because I relate to Kelly’s situation (minus the major health issues) of parenting young children and being extremely close to your own parent. I loved her descriptions of times with her children and of her own evolution as a daughter and parent. I’m not so sure I would have enjoyed this book so much if I were in a different stage of life. I often found Kelly’s chapters on her earlier life as dull – I understand why she included them but ultimately they did not seem relevant to me. I hurried through those chapters, rather bored by her experiences. I felt as if I were on the other end of the phone with a friend telling me stories as I indulged her by listening (or rather, by pretending to listening but actually quietly checking my email). I wanted to know more about Kelly’s experiences as a cancer patient and less about her childhood. Although Kelly writes beautifully, it was not enough to make me want to hear about all of her earlier experiences. Now, if she were my good friend, that would be a different story…

  • Sonja
    July 31, 2008 - 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this book so much because I feel squeezed in the middle many days and I also could relate due to my own life experiences. I am a mother of 3 and a daughter of 2 wonderful parents. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago, so I came to the realization that I wouldn’t have him forever quite a long time ago. Like Greenie, Norm is very much loved by all who know him and I feel very fortunate to be his daughter and to be able to help in any way I can. Unfortunately, after 12 years of realizing this disease will some day take him away from me, it hasn’t gotten any easier. In Nov 2007, I had a breast cancer scare, however, I got wonderful news after 2 biopsies. I read this book several months ago, and recommmended it to our book club. It’s our August read! Fantastic book! Thank you!

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