Cancer memoir transcends illness with fun storytelling and pitch-perfect story organization

I enjoyed Kelly Corrigan’s memoir The Middle Place for a number of reasons, but I especially appreciated her approach to organizing her story and I think it can be instructive for memoir writers.

The Middle PlaceCorrigan tells the story of finding a lump in her breast in her 30s, when she was enjoying what she calls the Middle Place — “that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap.” But this is not a story just about cancer. It’s really more about her father, a larger-than-life figure she adores. Just when she’s comes to terms with her own cancer treatment, she finds out the father she worships has a cancer diagnosis of his own.

“The Middle Place” is divided into two parts. Part I begins with Corrigan finding a lump in her breast. Part II begins five months later when her father’s cancer, which had been in remission, returns.

The story is told in alternating chapters. The sometimes grave and dramatic chapters about the cancer chronology are spliced between related, non-chronological flashbacks about Corrigan’s childhood and young adulthood, oftentimes mined for humor. Each chapter tells its own story beginning with introductions like “It’s good, like a miracle is good, to know there’s somebody who will follow you down whatever path you choose” and ending with “Didn’t matter that diving wasn’t his sport. Your kid is your kid, and wherever they take you, you go,” with a beautiful anecdote about Corrigan’s high school swimming career in between; the next chapter, set in the midst of the cancer journey, tells how Dad came to offer moral support when Corrigan’s chemotherapy began. It’s perfect. It makes all the back story more meaningful and lively, and the approach also keeps the story light and fun, which is saying something about a story hanging on a cancer chronicle.

Corrigan is very much a youngest daughter, and her center-of-the-universe perspective could have been sickening, except she admits it, owns it and makes fun of it. Her honesty makes her a likable narrator.

On top of the writing, I really liked the fun and simplicity her cover design. She also chose to include three black-and-white photos of her family inside, which makes the story all the more genuine. Great memoir.

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2 thoughts on “Cancer memoir transcends illness with fun storytelling and pitch-perfect story organization

  1. Pingback: A reading list for memoirists | Monica Lee

  2. Pingback: My Top 5 best books I read in 2014 | Minnesota Transplant

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