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.