Friday, December 03, 2021

Nonfiction Review: Lift by Kelly Corrigan

For years, I have been hearing rave reviews of Kelly Corrigan's books, most of them collections of personal essays. I've also heard interviews with her on podcasts, about how she lost her dad, struggled with cancer, and more. Every interview I heard, in spite of the often dark topics, has made me laugh, though, so I knew I wanted to read some of her writing. Nonfiction November was over much too quickly for me, but I did manage to squeeze in one last book in the last two days of the month, the short memoir Lift by Kelly Corrigan.

This brief little book was actually written by Kelly as a letter to her two daughters, for them to read at some far-off time in the future when they are grown. It describes some of her experiences as a mother, including both the intense pains and soaring joys of being a parent. Her narrative covers the small, everyday moments between parents and children, as well as the extraordinary times that you think might break you. In particular, she writes about when one of her daughters, as a baby, caught meningitis and was hospitalized for several nightmarish days, driving home the fragility of life. She also writes about her friend, Meg, who very much wanted to be a parent but hadn't found the right person to be her partner, and how she finally came to a decision that would change her life. And she writes of the devastating loss of a family member, her aunt's son, a teen boy just entering the prime of his life, and how her aunt (and she) dealt with that. That same aunt once told her, " ... We're never ready for the things that happen. When the big stuff happens, we're always looking in the other direction." In another passage, Kelly writes about what family means to her, explaining why she wanted to be a mother:

"Greenie [grandpa] has this huge family and I love being inside something that big. I love the noise and the hugging and high-fiving and how we tell the same ten stories every time we're together and, after that, we tell the same six jokes ..."

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to see my own family, where we did indeed beg my stepfather to tell all his best stories again (for the hundredth time) as we all laughed until our stomachs hurt, I can relate.

And that's what Kelly Corrigan--and all the best essayists and memoirists--does. She tells her own very personal stories in such a warm, intimate way that we see our own experiences in them. She writes beautifully (I tabbed many quotes in the short book), with deep, raw emotion but also humor. Lift is a moving, powerful encapsulation of what it means to be a parent--and a flawed human--in a world that is bound to both break our hearts and give us unbelievable moments of joy. Reading this book took me back to the days when my own two sons were young in a wonderful (and terrifying) journey of nostalgia. It also inspired me to write my own letters to them. Fittingly, one of my sons gave me this book for my birthday.

89 pages, Hachette Books

Random House Audio

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  1. She's one of my all-time favorite authors. Absolutely love everything she writes. She's an auto-buy for me.

    1. Good to hear, Melissa! This was my first by her - I definitely want to read more.

  2. I find it so interesting that we like reading about other people's real lives. I think it's what you pointed out: we pick the parts we can relate to I our own lives. How wonderful that you got your stepfather to tell all his good stories!

    1. Yes, memoirs have a special kind of pull, don't they?

  3. Sounds very moving, thanks for sharing your thoughts

    1. Thanks for hosting the NF challenge!