on March 16, 2010
I was on the bus, on the way to collect our daughter at her best friend's apartment, so of course I was reading. The book was "Lift", Kelly Corrigan's 84-page snip of a book. My ambition was to finish it in less than 20 minutes --- the time it takes a slow bus, in late afternoon traffic, to get across town.
Yes, I read fast and I am often in a hurry to boot, but I was working toward a personal best here for another reason: I had figured the book out. The arc of it was simple. Corrigan's love letter to her two young daughters becomes a meditation on Rilke's line, "The knowledge of impermanence that haunts our days is their very fragrance."
That's an interesting idea. Especially to parents --- we've all had it. The ticking clock. How the days are long, but the years are short. How our kids can't know what they mean to us until they have kids who mean everything to them.
That commonality --- feelings that apply to soccer moms and cynical moms alike --- is the reason that "Lift" will be a Mother's Day gift of choice deep into the next millennium. For Kelly Corrigan is the poet laureate of the ordinary. There's no cliche she doesn't kiss on the mouth. If she has a thought that isn't universal, she suppresses it. No wonder she is staggeringly popular with middle-aged women --- she is her readers.
Proof: Her video about women who transcend the dailiness of life, the cruelties of age and the shock of death has been viewed 4,655,000 times since December, 2008.
Proof: "The Middle Place" - her first book, which is about her marriage and her cancer and her dad's cancer, her kids and her childhood --- is a staple of reading groups.
Proof: Her video for "Lift" shows her --- a pleasant person with sensible glasses, a pony tail and a baseball cap she wears in the house --- playing piano ("Heart and Soul") with her kids, then reading to them from her book. In my version of this video, our kid would flee the camera; these kids soldier on. Which is charming --- or is it exploitative?
My resistance started to crumble when Corrigan began to write about her Stage 3 breast cancer, which kills 4 of every 10 women who get it. (She seems to have beaten it, but...) And then there's the infant with meningitis ("It's one thing to know your child is in pain, it's another to attend it"), and a teenaged boy killed in a car crash, and an aunt who is a great woman and wants kids but has no man, and then the pictures at the end, and .. . And yeah, there's lots about kids having trouble reading "Harry Potter" and feeling bad about small slights and the skinned knees of daily life, but this big stuff --- it accumulates, and then it knocks you down.
Yes, I lost it. Because Kelly Corrigan is very good at what she does. It may be sincerity. It is certainly manipulation. Underneath it all may be a mind so calculating --- a writer's mind --- that she knows exactly where and how to place her detonators. Lord knows there are many. "I am your mother, the first mile of your road," she writes. And, about her kids, "This was my dream. You were my dream."
Sitting on that bus, I fought back the sobs, but the tears streamed down, for I knew exactly what she meant --- my wife and I had married late and started the fertility challenge even later and it's pretty much a miracle that we have our kid.
So those words that Kelly Corrigan writes? They're mine.
And if you are a parent, yours too, I'd bet.
If ever a book ought to come attached to a box of Kleenex, this is it.
on March 9, 2010
I'm a guy. Reading this book helped me to understand how women think, how women feel, what women want, and a lot of things I never knew before. It helped me to understand my mother, my wife, my sister, and all the other women and mothers who have always seemed so mysterious to me.
The author does a fabulous job of conjuring those telling moments in her family life. Her economical use of words in distilling those moments and emotions was simply magical.
Guys, read it when she is finished. You'll be glad that you did.
on March 2, 2010
I picked up my copy of Lift and sat down on the floor of my bedroom and just read it - I didn't move for an hour. Just as I did with the Middle Place, I laughed and wept. Mostly I felt relieved that like Kelly I don't know what souvenirs to keep and don't know whether I am doing damage when I "verbally discipline" my adorable children but tonight I found myself giggling in my kitchen as I cleaned up the dinner dishes and listened to my 6 and 8 yr olds try to figure out all the words to a Ben Folds song.
Thank you Kelly for telling your stories. They not only entertain, they resonate.
on November 14, 2015
I read Kelly Corrigan’s second memoir, Lift, in one sitting, and wished it would go on forever. Lift, a pastiche of Corrigan’s family life told through several insightful, elegant, sometimes heart-wrenching vignettes is imbued with a perception and candor that is Corrigan’s hallmark. This is a woman who knows what’s important in life, who knows when to ask questions, when to take notes, and when to put the pen down. It was Corrigan’s deposition-like questioning which earned her the title of the book. During one such session, a friend’s husband who loves to hang glide revealed that lift is what one gets when, while hang gliding, you encounter an upward force that counteracts the force of gravity, a change in the direction of a moving stream of air. In the sport of hang gliding, it’s your sole method of propulsion. His description, more dangerous than his wife knew or had cared to admit, and Corrigan’s retelling of the moment her friend realizes the danger her husband periodically subjects himself to is demonstrative of Corrigan’s brilliance as a writer. In a sentence, a single snapshot of their lives, she reveals the scope of their relationship, exposing both strength and vulernability with a simple turn of phrase. This ability to weigh life in words and to make it universal is the mark of a fine writer.
Lift is ostensibly a letter to Corrigan’s daughters, something for them to have when they reach a certain age, or maybe one day when their mother is gone. Perhaps it was Corrigan’s bout with breast cancer that started her thinking about things. She chronicled that experience, interlaced with her own childhood stories, in her first book, The Middle Place. Or maybe it was the horror of ovarian cancer which cost her not only her ovaries, but the chance for more children, something she says she may never get over. Whatever the genesis, Corrigan’s cancer allowed her to let people in and do for her as she never could before. As a result, she doesn’t look at life the way most people do. She knows that the long haul could be short indeed, and she views each moment through her close up lens -- Corrigan is also an excellent photographer -- knowing that it’s a crap shoot, that we could get just this one day or 10,000 more, and soaking it all in while it’s there in front of her. I met her briefly at a Jr. League Author’s Luncheon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the woman has an uncanny ability to connect with everyone she meets, size them up in a few seconds and give them exactly what they need -- no veils or hidden doors, just open communication and full on love -- as if there’s not a moment to lose. At first you think she might be BS’ing you, or that maybe she’s looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but then you realize she’s popped out the lenses and there’s nothing obstructing her view. Plus, like her writing, she’s funny as hell.
Lift is not a memoir in the traditional sense, but a brief historic family interlude told through its still strong, still beating heart center. You can read Lift in an afternoon, but like Corrigan herself, you’ll remember it for a lifetime.
on February 18, 2015
This is a beautiful memoir of motherhood that I read in under an hour. I read it for the first first time while pregnant with my first child. It was very emotional at the time. Years later I read it again as the mother of two little ones. Corrigan speaks to the unique experience of loving someone as much as we do our children.
on June 8, 2010
Kelly Corrigan wrote with wit and a never-waning sense of wonder about her parents in the 2008 bestseller THE MIDDLE PLACE. She does the same for her children in LIFT, which is short and sweet, occasionally sentimental, stylishly sagacious, and, at times, sardonic. It is a cross between a mother's diary and a sea captain's log, mixing the salty behind-the-scenes true grit of parenthood with a parent's most secret longings for her children.
Kelly has two daughters, who were barely toddling when she discovered that she had breast cancer, the subject of her earlier book. Now they are growing up, maybe too quickly for her taste. "You won't remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don't even know about yourselves...you'll remember middle school and high school, but you'll have changed by then." One suspects --- no, one is sure --- that LIFT is Kelly's way of trying to guarantee that no matter what happens, her girls will have a written set of memories to cherish when the incidents of childhood are long forgotten.
One reason why Kelly may have more than the ordinary mother's zeal to keep those precious moments alive is found in the story of her friend Kathy and Kathy's son Aaron. Aaron was "a joker and an optimist and a ponderer of great and small things." One night he went out to "swing by and say hello to some people" and never came home. "I tell you about Aaron," she writes to her little girls, "because I want you to live longer than he did."
With cutting-edge humor that any parent can identify with, Corrigan tells us that "my default answer to everything is no." But, she confesses to her daughters, "What you probably wouldn't believe is how much I want to say yes." Motherhood is all about that tug of war and the mind's responsibility to say no when your heart wants to say yes.
One of the fine moments of motherhood is captured in a long sequence reliving the time Kelly and her husband thought baby Claire might have spinal meningitis. The harrowing wait for test results, the frustration and helplessness of watching a baby suffer through terrifying medical procedures remind us that all parents have to be brave, make hard choices, and cry inwardly while waiting and hoping without breaking down outwardly. It goes with the territory.
The title of the book comes from the image of hang gliding --- Kelly's friend tells her that the sport involves flying "from thermal to thermal, looking for lift." And though turbulence is dangerous, it's also "the only way to get altitude." Kelly knows, and shows us, that family life also involves looking for lift among periods of turbulence --- because when you find it, you fly.
on June 11, 2015
I can't even begin to express how much I disliked this rambling and whiny jumble of words. It belongs as a blog entry from some woman seeking validation for her parenting NOT as a $10 "book." Talk about capitalizing on past success for a profit. The author picked a divisive subject, motherhood, and cloaked it in a saccharine "letter to my daughters about what it was like when they were young." Ultimately, it ends up as a mother telling her non specific audience about what an insecure and bad parent she felt like. We all have doubts, I get it. Being a mother is hard. I have 2 of my own. But this "book" quickly shifts away from her children and ends up being a collection of anctedotes that have nothing to do with sharing the stories her YOUNG kids will forget when they are older. Which is the premise she lays out in the first few pages.
So here you go - this review will save you 40 minutes of reading and explain why this book sucked for me:
"If I had to pick one fate for you, cancer or fertility problems, I'd pick cancer." Wow, what a mom... being a mother is great. But motherhood comes to us all in different ways. Carrying a child doesn't make you a better mother than others. It is the breast vs. bottle debate. Whatever works for you to have a positive and healthy (relationship) kid. Let's just hope that her daughters, reading her "letter" as adults don't struggle with infertility. They might feel differently.
In the next paragraph she tells her daughter's about how easy it was to get "knocked up with their dad's uber-sperm" (gross! I don't want to think of my father that way). Upon getting a positive pregnancy test, the author runs off and has a drink to celebrate. If the author values having children so highly you'd think she might have a better way celebrate.
We move on to the video of the first child's birth. Childbirth is pretty amazing, but I don't really have any desire to see myself pop out of my mom - it would be like watching kittens die. Traumatic. But the author goes into great detail describing it, then says, "I'll show you, assuming you're old enough to hear me say "sweet-Jesus-Mother-fucker." Really? You tell the kids (who are possibly reading this letter before they are old enough to hear you swear) about the exact reason why you won't show them the video?
This is probably one of the things that really irritated me about this book: The self shame, which she blames her shame on other people's perceptions - specifically those Berkeley liberals! She feels guilty for stopping beast feeding early. That example of self loathing will do more damage to her daughters' then giving them formula. Own your flipping decisions, lady, and get over it! So what, you switched to formula. Your kids are healthy. Rejoice in that.
But the author still doesn't measure up because she is a bad cook and uses invites to the neighbors house as the only opportunity have good family meals. A frozen lasagna isn't that tough. Neither is PB&J or a rotisserie chicken from the market. So what if you can't cook, the food isn't important, the time with the family is. And that time would be of a better quality if you weren't chugging wine in the kitchen with the neighbor before mooching a family meal. With the neighbor's family.
After the second daughter has viral meningitis, the author is done having kids (because being a parent is scary!). Fine. No big deal. I would be traumatized seeing my infant get a spinal tap, too. Then 3 pages later tells how a hysterectomy, done preventatively to ward off breast cancer from metastizing on her ovaries, was the worst thing that ever happened because she wouldn't have more kids. I get the emotional finality of not being able to have more kids, but Come on. Was giving the baby stuff away after a hysterectomy that traumatic? I would think the infant spinal tap would be much more horrible. I don't know about you, but I'd take the hysterectomy over dying of cancer (didn't she wish cancer on her daughters?)/not having more kids (she already has 2, right?)/giving the baby stuff away ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.
Then we get the gem of the story about the teenager dying in a car crash. Great. Something else that is incredibly emotionally manipulative. She ends this little recounting with a warning to her girls "...I want you to be more cautious and less optimistic." How does optimism affect a teenager's risk taking behaviors? Be optimistic, but how about stop and think? And what is the point of this story if her kids are reading this as adults?
The book ends with meeting Meg - the most interesting 'character' in this extended blog post. In the middle of introducing the character to the reader (not her daughters - because at this point in the text, it seems like the author has no idea who her audience is). The author is upset that her friend is single and doesn't have children. How could she not? Remember, people, cancer is BETTER than not carrying a child! What's a BFF to do? Why help her friend get a sperm donation from www.mangoopinacup.com, of course! Good for her friend. (FYI, I have no issue with single motherhood or using a donor. I just don't get how this bit of info furthers Corrigan's story.)
By the end of the book, the focus is no longer about her kids or herself as a parent of those young children, rather it has morphed into a running commentary on the value of HAVING children and Corrigan's own insecurities.
On the whole, I found this book manipulate. The author's overall point seems to be that having children (through pregnancy, not adoption!) is the only valid way to be a mother. But she isn't good enough. She never will be. Because being a good parent is measured by what others think? This book seems to be more about seeing validation for all of her insecurities than about any meaningful insight for her daughters.
Corrigan uses emotionally charged anctedotes to suck readers into the roller coaster that is parenthood with little achievement of her overall goal: telling her daughters what she is like as a mother and they are like as children. This book panders to visceral reactions and requires little thought. Her metaphors are as subtle as running into a brick wall at 80 miles per hour. A a parent, I've gone through some of the doubts and insecurities she describes - who knew I could write them all up and make money off it?
on March 9, 2010
I had it marked on the calendar the day that LIFT got released and ran to Borders after work to get a copy (and also the audio version so I could hear Mike E's music)...as soon as I walked in I chuckled because it was front and center as soon as you walked in the door and I thought wow, Kelly's mom would be so happy!! All her hard work paid off. I devoured that book immediately and then also listened to the audio version on the way to work. That book was so heartfelt, and beautifully written that I literally wanted to tell everyone I knew about it. I wanted to talk about it SO bad. My boyfriend and I planned a trip to Philly the week LIFT was released for that Friday-Sunday...on Friday's car ride down I negotiated for him to listen to the audio version of LIFT and he can have the other 3+ hours to listen to anything he wanted and I would not say a word. I think he knew what kind of impact this book had on me and gave in to my request. I thought he was going to complain and throw a fit...instead he was just as moved and touched as I was that something shifted in him internally about our relationship (he have been together for 7 ½ years). We discussed various parts of the book that were either hilarious or how we would be in different situations and what we want to be like as parents, etc. Needless to say, he was not prepared to do this but that evening he proposed and this book had a lot to do with it...we realized that it's the caring and sharing that comes when life gets busy. Bills need to be paid and errands need to be run. It's the laughing and teasing and working things out. Its learning and knowing what your partner needs without even asking. It's the jokes that only the two of you get. It is about building it together--the good, bad, ugly and like Kelly said Divine...her story is a celebration of love with all the complexity and consequence that real love, in the real world, actually entails and I hope someday I can be half the mother she is.
on March 13, 2010
A tiny book (82 pages) that I read in about an hour. If you are Kelly's daughter, husband, or friend you will love the book. For those of us unrelated to Kelly, the book is a disappointment. I loved the Middle Place, and hoped for more substance in this book. Overpriced at $16.99.
on July 22, 2012
I LOVE Kelly Corrigan's style of writing - I finished her other wonderful, touching book The Middle Place yesterday morning and immediately bought Lift for my Kindle. I am so frustrated that I didn't check to see how many pages it is before I bought it. After less than 45 minutes of reading I was shocked to find that it was just...over. I kept looking around on my Kindle trying to figure out if the download had gone wrong. Arrgh. Such a lovely short story at such a long book price.
Story-wise, it's 5 stars.
Price-wise, it's 2.
I do hope she writes more, though.