Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Glitter and Glue

by Kelly Corrigan

Ballentine Books 2014
224 pages     Memoir

I am in love with Glitter and Glue. I am in love with Kelly Corrigan. Those who know my reviews know that I am prone to finding the good in the books that I read, but Glitter and Glue is profound in ways that stretches beyond the page into the memory and psyches of the reader.

Corrigan puts on paper the memory of a summer in her life during the 1990s when she and a friend were backpacking in Australia and ran out of money. They each take a nanny job with a Sydney family to earn enough money to finish their trip. Corrigan's job is with an extended family, a father and two young children who have just lost their mother to cancer. The household also includes the mother's father and her young adult son from a former marriage. 

Like most 20-somethings, Corrigan is feeling very independent from her parents, especially from her mother, who she feels to be too no-nonsense, too demanding, too abrupt, too matter-of-fact. Father, who is called Greenie, is everything that Mary, her mother, is not. He is positive, loving, supportive, and encouraging. (Apparently, a previous memoir called The Middle Place is about her father.) "If my mother thought of me as someone to guide, my father thought of me as someone to cheer." Her mother told her once, "You father is the glitter; I am the glue."

Corrigan arrives at the Tanner house when the household is at their most vulnerable; their mother Ellie has just died and no one knows quite how to handle things--emotions are still too raw. The seven-year-old daughter Millie wants nothing to do with her and the five-year-old Martin just wants someone to be his Mommy. 

During the months that Corrigan works for the Tanner family, she learns so much about mothering, but more importantly about her own mother. She learns to appreciate her mother in new ways. After a particularly bad day with Martin and Millie, she muses: "I see that, sturdy though my mother was, she must have been gutted by the sound and sight and sheer vibration of her rabid daughter roaring, I HATE YOU! I HATE YOUR GUTS! I HATE YOU FOR EVER!.
I had thought a good mother would not elicit such comments but now I see that a good mother is required to somehow absorb all this ugliness and find a way to fall back in love with her child the next day." She learns that she will never have a girly-girl relationship with her mother, but as she tries to mother these motherless children, she finds herself wondering about what her mother would do in any of a number of situations. As she works to help these children through this crisis in their lives, she grows in innumerable ways and becomes a woman rather than a girl. 

As much as we think we know about our mothers, I am not sure that any of us truly ever knew our mothers, although my mother revealed more of herself than some other mothers I knew. My favorite sentence in the book says as much: "But now I see there's no such thing as a woman, one woman. There are dozens inside every one of them. I probably should've figured this out sooner, but what child can see the woman inside her mom, what with all that Motherness blocking out everything else." 

Sometimes I think to myself, "I'm becoming my mother." And then I feel pride, because my mother was a remarkable woman, and I would love to "be" my mother.

I hadn't picked up Gllitter and Glue yet when I saw the following video on Facebook. I remembered that the publisher had sent me the book to review. I dug it out of the pile and finished it in a few hours. I cried over the video and I cried over the book. That in itself may not be an endorsement, but besides all the emotion, there are some extremely funny moments. Kelly Corrigan is full of good humor and ascerbic wit. The combination makes for a great read! Newsday calls it a "Valentine to Mom."

Kelly Corrigan's website:

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