Cancer used to be a taboo subject, as if the word itself were a bad omen. Now, with more than 1-million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year, sharing our experiences is not only the norm, it brings solace.
Kelly Corrigan's memoir, The Middle Place, is about the relationship between a father and daughter who have cancer. This coming-of-age story is a page turner, but there were times when I wanted to shake Corrigan as well as hug her.
Corrigan writes candidly about discovering the lump in her breast and the anxiety about the unknown that many of us will relate to or have wondered about. With poignancy and humor she interweaves her childhood, marriage and the extraordinary bond between herself and her father, a bond that becomes especially strong when she learns he has cancer too.
Pick almost any line, such as descriptions of mothering her two young children, and you'll want to applaud her writing.
Corrigan's "troops" include her saint of a husband and her mother, "the Marine who lives to serve." But Greenie, a pet name for her father, is the hub of the story. He's a garrulous, Irish-American salesman who takes center stage wherever he goes, who loves "swinging by places" and telling jokes.
His daughter is in love with his persona as well as the man himself. She won't even give up her maiden name because she wants to bask in the glory of being Greenie's daughter: "You're not George's daughter, are you?"
The title of the memoir refers to "that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap." Though she lives 3,000 miles away, Corrigan zealously manages her father's care. For much of the book she needs his demonstrated approval and affection.
This is what makes me want to shake her — she's 37 years old yet, like a child, seeks attention. On learning her diagnosis, she and her husband make the rounds of phone calls to friends and relatives. The next day she sends "a very brave-sounding" e-mail notifying "about 100 people" of her cancer with an invitation to a party she's planning a year later. Though it's normal to reach out, the drama of it
all seems played to the nth degree.
Maybe that response is pure envy. Those of us who know what it's like to sit in waiting rooms alone, or comfort loved ones in various recliners while the red stuff seeps into their veins, may not have much empathy for a woman who expects constant nurturing from a support system that's already abundant, loving and secure.
Having said that, we all deal with trauma as best we can, and Corrigan deserves many hugs for her honesty and for a story that's so full of rich details one marvels at her insights.
Annette Gallagher Weisman is
a freelance writer and a member
of the National Book Critics Circle.