The story is so improbable, it could only be true: A brilliant woman with a long history of mental illness —who once proclaimed herself to be “the center of the universe”—is miraculously cured by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning aboard the family boat. Nancy Bachrach warns readers, “Don't try this at home” in her darkly humorous memoir about “the second coming” of her mother—the indomitable Lola, whose buried family secrets had been driving her crazy.
Aching and tender, unflinching and wry, the center of the Universe is a multigenerational mother—daughter story—a splendid, funny, lyrical memoir about family, truth, and the resilience of love.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.32(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.76(d)|
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Bachrach: THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Things Fall Apart
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND, 1983
In the ancient forest on the Right Bank of Paris lies a jewel-like island where Napoléon, just back from the Alps, built a Swiss chalet. Emerald lawns and ruby flowers shimmer beside a sapphire lake as peacocks stride by. On a sunny Sunday morning in May, I am ensconced on the chalet’s terrace, now a café, replenishing more energy than my leisurely jog has exhausted. Around me, lazy hands stir sugar cubes in slow circles and spread butter on crusty baguettes. These are the only signs of industry in a city where the principal exercises are digestion and strolling, laissez-faire is practiced and preached, and intermission is the pace of life.
I saunter through the woods toward my apartment as the ladies of the night flee daylight like vampires stumbling upon a cross. I know one of the Brazilians by name, since I pass her most mornings as she’s wrapping up her night’s work in tissues. Alexandro has just become Alexandra. Like her, I came to Paris to reinvent myself three years ago. Although I had no surgery, I did change my name, and while no one calls me a prostitute, sometimes I feel like one, admittedly, in another old and unlofty profession, advertising.
I’ve been relocated from headquarters in New York to tackle a marketing emergency for an important toiletries client— the launch of France’s first sorely needed antiperspirant. Our team on the Seine—ninety-nine people smoking and loitering above a gas station—won the coveted assignment (code-named Stink-o) even though they’ve failed for a decade to browbeat their countrymen into American bar soap. Which is why someone very high up at bar soap headquarters, someone with a good nose but a rarely used passport, smells an untapped market for deodorants over here, and although I can imagine the logic that led to this conclusion (and my relocation), the person who reached it hasn’t had to sit through forty focus groups in unventilated conference rooms in the provinces. Getting the natives to “adopt” a roll-on, stick, or spray will require “a paradigm shift,” I’m learning, a long and winding road that’s synonymous with a huge media budget and then, usually, failure. What would make the French—who relish the bleu on their cheese and their skin, who have a whole class of things they fondly call “stinky”—what would make them plug up their pores with wax to placate and enrich our big American client? This is the onerous marketing dilemma I face daily in my otherwise idyllic life in the City of Light.
To help me think through the Stink-o conundrum, I have the Semis—a squadron of French semiologists, not just translators but also linguists and cogitators, who are deconstructing the semantics of our antiperspirancy muddle. Not solving it exactly, just scrutinizing it in the Gallic way, ad nauseam. For my edification, the Semis are writing a treatise on perspiration, its cultural heritage, its evolutionary value, its distillation of primeval body essences. My task is to develop a successful campaign against sweat, when it rivals the madeleine in the collective olfactory unconscious.
Tucked behind a manicured garden in the Sixteenth Arrondissement is the elegant rue where I live—in a Beaux-Arts town house with a tiny filigreed elevator, where I would imagine Maurice Chevalier crooning to Leslie Caron even if “Gigi” weren’t playing on the concierge’s stereo. From my apartment on the top floor—four rooms with high ceilings and crown moldings, eight times the size of my New York studio, thanks to the value of the dollar under Reagan—there’s a postcard view of the tip of the Eiffel Tower, which I am admiring through open windows, when my phone rings.
The connection has a bad echo, so it’s an overseas call, although it’s two in the morning in the States.
Surely, as the poet said, some revelation is at hand.
My brother, Ben, weeping hello, sounds both frantic and measured. He tells me he has “terrible news.” He says I’d better “prepare” myself.
I have never had any idea what to do after someone says “prepare yourself,” since the warning itself is an angst infusion.
“Sssxxzzz is dead,” Ben says, but the ocean is sloshing against underwater cables, making puddles of noise in his words.
“Who? Who’s dead?” This is the moment when time collapses, when what hasn’t yet been said feels like déjà vu.
“DAD!” he shouts. “DAD is dead.”
The echo repeats his words. “Dad is dead—dad is dead.”
Our father is fifty-eight—a vigorous, athletic, handsome fifty-eight. “Boyish” is the first thing people call him, not always as a compliment.
“Dad is dead? How?”
“The boat—the boat.”
That is explanation enough.
Facing me is a photo of our father aboard his secondhand fourteen-year-old “cabin cruiser,” the Mr. Fix It, unwrapping my last birthday gift—an inflatable life raft. Spouting the Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus, he is, or was, constantly fiddling with nautical instruments whose failures are legendary. Last year’s close call came fifty miles off Martha’s Vineyard, with no land in sight, when he and my mother happened upon a “sudden” storm—which functioning radar or a transistor radio would have disclosed. It swept the deck furniture overboard and almost did the same to them before they strapped themselves into their seats. So it is easy to picture Mr. Fix It himself chomping on a cigar like Ralph Kramden, piloting blind from his flying bridge under a starless sky, next to a mute radio, as an unforeseen tidal wave washes over his boat (again) and drags him into the Atlantic. I glimpse his black hair bobbing in the ocean and his hands flailing as a shark circles and pokes him in the chest.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .
“No, it was carbon monoxide. Dad was asphyxiated.”
I see my father get down on his knees in the galley, where he opens the oven door and puts his head inside. Resting his cheek on the oven rack, just for a moment. Deciding. He reaches for the knobs and turns them on, one at a time, and, squeezing his eyes shut, he takes a deep breath.
But the only oven on his boat is a toaster.
“How did he do it?”
“It was an accident. And Mom was with him. She’s in a coma.”
The second shoe. The widening gyre.
“How long will Mom be in the coma?” I ask stupidly. I have always trusted in the omniscience of doctors, especially when the doctor is my brother. Ben is a lung specialist in New York’s busiest emergency room, with a need to come to the rescue so old and so deep that only triage at Bellevue seems to satisfy it.
“I’ve done everything I can. It’s out of my hands.”
I am afraid to ask whose hands it’s in now. “Can I make it home in time?”
“She’s in a little Catholic hospital at the beach for Chrissake.”
Meaning what? Is this code for pulling the plug? Or for not being able to pull the plug? I want to ask, but I don’t want to ask—having come of age in the sixties, I always assume my phone is tapped. So I keep that thought and a whole stomach-ache of fears to myself—while I try not to think about Sunny von Bülow.
“I hate to say this—I know it’s awful—but you’ve got to prepare yourself for a double funeral.”
How do I prepare for a double funeral? Pack two of everything? Pack clothes that are very black? The unimaginable has just happened, and the unpredictable is around the corner, and it feels like I missed my chance to prepare.
My brain screens an improvised documentary short, like a practice drill. His and hers coffins roll off an assembly line. Their sides touch in a final wooden embrace; then they linger at the edge of a double grave—a deep pocket of dirt for two. The Mourner’s Kaddish is sung, and God is glorified and sanctified for no reason I’ve ever been able to discern during a funeral. And then the twin boxes tip into the breach, headfirst or feetfirst—impossible to know which; maybe one of each.
Long drum roll. Fade to very black.
Telling the story in an orderly way oversimplifies it, since truth is less tidy than prose, and maybe less plausible. Were Madame Defarge to knit the narrative, the yarn would have a dark side and a light side, and it would flip itself over and over—a tale of quick reversals—full of snags and dropped stitches and tangled threads. Frayed and raggedy, perhaps, but lively nonetheless.
I began taking notes for a story about my mother the minute I could write. I wrote everywhere—on my school desk and in the margins of my books and notebooks, on paper napkins and garbage bags when there were no pads around because she was using all of them, and eventually into one diary after another. There are things I didn’t write down—not every story needs to be told—but I recorded plenty.
On my dresser is a family photo from the fifties, of me with Ben and our little sister, Helen. We’re sitting closer than we need to be in the spacious backseat of our father’s yellow Chevy, dressed identically in crisp white shirts and khaki shorts, three small slightly green faces—six, eight, and ten—set against the smoky haze of an airtight sedan. We’re on the road to summer camp in the Catskills, in uniform, with our father, Mort, behind the wheel, blowing smoke rings. Frank Sinatra is singing “Stardust” on the radio.
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart.
Our mother, Lola, has been asleep, with her head in Mort’s lap, but she wakes up spring-loaded: Her auburn curls pop up above the seat, followed by an incandescent smile. Glancing down at us in the back, she blows a theatrical kiss and gets ready to tell us a story.
“I was dreaming,” the story begins.
She waits until everyone is paying attention. Mort turns off the radio.
“I am the center of the universe,” she says, looking at each of us in turn, making sure we appreciate the significance. “And everyone else is a star revolving around me.”
This is a confession. A revelation. A pronouncement. This is the way of the world.
She is Norma Desmond, descending the staircase in Sunset Boulevard, eyes wide and frozen, getting ready for her close-up. She is Salome, stripping the veil off the face of the cosmos. She is my mother, Lola Hornstein.
And she is crazy.
Twirling her fingers in dainty arcs, she demonstrates the rotation of the solar system around her, right there in the front seat. Cupping her hands lovingly around a star to bring it closer, basking in its reflected light. She is Pivotal, the axis of a magical orbit, spinning, spinning, while the rest of us are drawn to her by gravity. I am as weightless as dust, sucked into her vacuum.
She giggles, then blushes, and her hands leave their stellar rotation to stifle a laugh. Then she chuckles and cackles until she roars.
“Cut it out, Lola.” Mort is weary.
“I am the brightest star,” she insists, peeved, since it’s obvious that my father doesn’t get it yet, that he needs further clarification.
But I get it: Lola could burn out fast, or she could burn out slowly. The speed is unknowable, but it’s certain that a firestorm is coming. And then it will get very dark.
“But it was only a dream,” Mort says.
“It was a vision!” she responds grandly, infuriated by his impertinence. “I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE!”
Widening her sphere of influence to enclose all of us, she swirls her arms majestically, and her hand grazes the wheel accidentally, making the car veer into the next lane.
Mort pushes her away.
“Knock it off. I’m driving.” He sounds angry now. I’ll bet he’s scared, too.
“I command you to stop this car!”
He glances over at her, then back at the road, noncommittal, and turns the radio back on.
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by.
“I’m talking to you, mister. You’d better stop this damn car right now, because I’m getting out.”
I’m rooting for getting out, too, and soon. But Mort doesn’t follow orders. Mort thinks he’s in charge.
So Lola leans over and reminds him who is the center of the universe—she beats his chest like a tom-tom, chanting that she hates him. She’s very convincing.
Down the two-lane road we drift, while Mort tries to bring Lola and the Chevy under control. Finally, he pulls over to the breakdown lane, and the right wheels end up on a grassy embankment like a Tilt-O-Whirl, so what seemed lopsided only a moment ago now truly is.
Lola throws her door open and runs off in her yellow sundress and sandals, weaving through thick hedges at the side of the road.
“Why is Mommy playing hide-and-seek?” my little sister asks.
Traffic slows down as people lean out their car windows, pointing at my father, who’s running after my mother, who’s puking tuna fish on rye, no extra mayo, please, in the bushes. When he catches her, he grabs her by the shoulders and wipes vomit off her chin with his sleeve. Then he leads her back to the car, puts her in her side, and locks her door.
Lola looks at herself in the visor mirror and reapplies her lipstick, moving the brassy tube around and around and around her thick red lips, getting ready for the next scene.
“Okay, everything’s fine now,” Mort announces as he gets in, transferring tuna vomit from his shirt to the front seat.
We are halfway to Camp High Peak, three hungry birds in a wobbly nest, imprinting on an ostrich with his head in the sand while a wild hyena nips at his tail.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Things Fall Apart 3
Slouching Towards Providence 17
Intimations of Mortaiity 36
Still Life 65
Origin of the Species 85
Mal de Mere 103
The Undertow 111
Play the Hand You're Dealt 123
Lola Redux 139
The Thing with Feathers 154
Unrequited Love 161
The Second Coming 176
Men Are Like Buses 198
Reading Group Guide
1. Tolstoy wrote that “All happy families are alike, and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” How is the family in this book unique?
2. Lola, the book’s main character, proclaimed herself to be “The Center of the Universe.” Why was this traumatic for her family?
3. The author’s father, Mort, was nicknamed “Mr. Fix It.” Was his death just bad luck? An unavoidable accident? Predictable? Fate?
4. “Lies have latitude and longitude. Lies can be extended, magnified, hedged, contradicted, circumvented, and denied. The truth, on the other hand, is a forkless road with a dead end.” Whose philosophy is this in the book? And how does it shape her life and her family’s?
5. The author’s brother Ben—who was born with three thumbs—was a piano prodigy and eventual surgeon. Did his handicap add to his motivation?
6. Ben “made Chopin the sound track of my childhood—and the melancholy nocturnes and heartbreaking ballades that poured out of him poured right into me.” What role does music play in the book, and how does it help heal the family?
7. Writing about her little sister, Nancy says: “Poor Helen was born after the roles of ‘smart’ and ‘musical’ were already cast and had to create a new identity from scratch.” How did being the third child shape “Hellish”?
8. This is a story about a family that healed itself. What resources did the author and her siblings call upon to turn their dysfunctional childhood into highly-functioning adult lives? Do you think the problems they faced contributed to their close bond?
9. “Play the hand you’re dealt,” Nana said. “Count. Don’t try to beat the odds. No bluffing. And you gotta know when to fold.” How were Nana’s rules of poker a metaphor for guiding her three grandchildren? Was she their “savior?”
10. Describing Lola after the accident, Nancy writes: “Lola’s mind may lack torque, but her heart is a cheerful rudder.” Given a choice between brains and heart, which would you prefer?
11. After all the years of treating her mother “like she was a virus I might catch,” what precipitated Nancy’s realization that she loved Lola?
12. “This is a book about second chances,” the author has said. How does she use her second chance with her mother?
13. Lola wanted the memoir’s title to be Love Story. In what ways is this book a “love story”?
14. Nancy learned from a high school science experiment that “you never really know what’s going on inside anything.” How does that shape her thinking about Lola after the accident?
15. After the accident, when Lola began to deteriorate, Nancy writes: “I may represent Disaster, but I am also Rescue.” Was this true?
16. After the accident , the neurologist told Nancy that “hope would be counter-productive.” How would you react if a doctor said that to you?
17. Despite the gravity of the subject—life with a charismatic but mentally ill mother—this memoir is filled with humor. The author has commented that her family wasn’t laughing at the time, “but through a long lens (and after enough therapy), this tragedy revealed a comic underbelly.” How did her dark humor affect you?
18. James Thurber wrote that humor is chaos in retrospect. How did Nancy’s chaotic childhood shape her voice and her perspective?
19. A reviewer commented that this book “says the unsayable.” Do you agree? Can you give examples? What impact did that have for you when you were reading the story?
20. Another reviewer called the story “unsentimental – and all the more moving for it.” How did the author’s restraint (and lack of self-pity) affect your enjoyment in reading the book?
21. During a radio interview with Nancy Bachrach, the interviewer asked whether Lola had ever “apologized” to her children. Did Lola owe her children an apology for the way they were raised?
22. One reviewer wrote: “By the time the book ends, love has conquered chaos, tenderness flows like a healing balm and Lola's insistence that she is ‘the center of the universe’ doesn't seem so crazy after all.” Do you agree?
23. What role do dreams play in the story? Does Nancy’s dream on the plane home from Paris (about “the old woman in the hospital bed, and the blank newspaper that only the nun could read, and the clock without hands”) portend the future?
24. In the Author’s Note, Nancy writes: “Memory is so fragile that even perspective can distort it.” What does it mean to write a memoir after admitting that memory is flawed?
25. Nancy writes that her ancestors’ craziness was their “biochemical itinerary.” How much do genes control character? What role does experience play? And how did Lola’s childhood environment affect her sanity?
26. The author summarizes a major theological argument: If God is good and has unlimited power, why is there evil in the world? “Is god up there listening, but not interested in helping? Or would he like to help but he’s unable to intervene? Which is worse? Does it matter?” How would you respond to these questions?
27. “We all believe what we need to believe no matter how cultivated our skeptical principles.” Is this a definition of hope? Is it true in your own life?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have just finished this book and there is no doubt -- THIS IS THE MOTHER'S DAY GIFT. GIVE THIS BOOK TO YOUR MOTHER, SISTER, ADOPTED MOTHER HENS, GRANDMOTHERS & SIBLINGS. As an avid reader and non-stop globe-trotter I am always in desperate search for compelling in-flight reading as well as books that are funny, engaging, and meaningful. This book delivered all that and more. I could not put it down. Nancy Bachrach has a gift for telling a great story and weaving irony and hillarious anecdotes throughout as only a master of the advertising world could do. I found myself drawn into The Center of the Universe from the first page and had to force myself to slow down just so I could savor the ending which is at once inspiring, uplifting, touching and such a tribute to families, parents, and siblings everywhere. Each of us, no matter what our upbringing, will find meaning in this book. I can't wait to read Bachrach's next book!
I worked with Nancy Bachrach during her stint in advertising. She was on the account side, and I was a writer in the creative department. I'd heard bits and pieces of her story, though never the full story. I'm so glad she has finally told it--and even happier that I've had the privilege to read it. "The Center of the Universe" is seamlessly crafted and all-absorbing--and hilarious, to boot. As one writer to another, I pay Nancy the highest compliment one can pay: I wish I'd written this book myself.
Nancy Bachrach has written a roller coaster ride that mixes the chemical reaction of bipolar disorder, death, coma, late-sequellae poisoning, survival and hope. This abnormal upbringing, which she shared with her two siblings, "Ben", and "Helen", resulted in a parodic zeitgeist and an uncanny ability to laugh at the hand that life delivers. Bachrach does this with amazing verve, wit and steely intellect leaving the reader laughing and crying for more. Brava!
The Center of the Universe is about growing up and living with a mother with mental illness and a father in denial. I believe it will be a best seller right up there with Running with Scissors and Look Me in Eye Another book of hope about the resilency of the human spirit and of the power of love that made me laugh out loud more times than it made me cry.
I found this book to be a good read. The power a mother can have over her children knows no bounds. It's good to know I was not the only one to jump through hoops for my dear mother!
There was no need to run away and join the circus for these kids--they lived in one! By the time I joined this family in 1973 I had avoided childhood with these 3 remarkable kids. My husband's mother and father seemed awfully "normal" and fun to this mid-westerner. Little did I know! No one can tell this story as well as Nancy. She has written a book that takes the reader on a wild ride, through childhood with a "crazy" mother and an "ostrich" father, the near-death of her mother and the ultimate healing power of the bonds of love. With brilliant wit and comedic timing Nancy has captured this story in a way both hilarious and heart-breaking. The self-proclaimed "Center of the Universe" is my mother-in-law, and I couldn't be luckier! Thank you Nancy for writing this remarkable tale.
Nancy¿s mom ¿Lola¿ has always been in the edge of sanity. All throughout Nancy¿s life, ¿Lola¿ has been in and out of the electric chair ¿ trying to get her shocked straight. Now, in her 50¿s ¿Lola¿ has bigger problems. Her husband dies from carbon monoxide poisoning on their boat The Mr. Fix-It. That leaves ¿Lola¿ by herself, in a coma, with her grown children to take care of her. ¿Lola¿ wakes up, and like always, isn¿t quite there. She doesn¿t know how to change a light bulb when it burns out, she doesn¿t understand that there is more milk in a container than can fit in her cup so it spills everywhere and she starts layering, but not in a good way. No one should ever wear 6+ pairs of panty hose at one time. Throughout the turn of events, Nancy finally feels like the daughter her mother never had. And miraculously, the mental instability seems to go as the carbon monoxide sets in.I got The Center of the Universe from the Kelley and Hall Company. I haven¿t really read a lot of memoirs, I am normally a fiction kind of girl, but I really enjoyed this book. Honestly, I think the reason I enjoyed it so much was that it doesn¿t seem like it could be a realistic story. I know my childhood was pretty cookie cutter, but I still have a hard time grasping how some people grew up. I just can¿t fathom having a mother who routinely was shocked to try to get the crazy out.My grandmother had a stroke a year and a half ago, so I understand what Nancy and her siblings went through, trying to get their mother on the path to survival by herself. It¿s definitely like starting over with a child, with high hopes that they¿ll return to their old selves.This book gave me a number of emotions. At times, I felt bad for Nancy and her siblings for going through this with their mother, in childhood and adulthood, I shed a tear or two as they worked to get her back up to par, I laughed my butt of at some of ¿Lola¿s¿ antics. This book covered it all, heartbreak, love, suffering and the calm after the storm.My dad works in the mental health field, so I am definitely going to pass this on to him (I get my reading obsession from him, the apple doesn¿t fall far from the tree). I think he¿ll really enjoy it.I give The Center of The Universe 4 bookmarks. While I thoroughly enjoyed most of the book, there were times I caught myself skimming when it came to the medical terminology. I really wanted to understand it, it just didn¿t sink in.
Have I mentioned that I have sworn off memoirs?I know many people love them but I tend to find them depressing and whiny and self indulgent. Did I mention depressing?But then, something comes along that makes me admit I can sometimes be wrong. This is the book that puts the "not always" in Not Always.Why, if I have sworn off memoirs did I even pick this up to read? Well, one of the descriptions called it "darkly humorous" and the only thing better in my book than funny is dark and funny. That description hits this book on the head. Yes, there is death and drugs and sexual abuse and mental illness in this book. Lots of mental illness.And it is laugh-out loud funny!As the story begins and Nancy starts her recount of the story of her family, especially her mother, it is the 80's and Nancy is in France, heading an ad campaign to get the French to buy deodorant. She feels it is a hopeless job. It is, what she calls, the "Stink-o conundrum".Then she gets the call that her father is dead, her mother in a coma and expected to die, apparently of carbon monoxide poisoning on their boat. See, her father, who did all his own maintenance on the broken down vessel. He considered himself a great handyman, a self proclaimed Mr. Fix-It, but was one with no real ability. Her mother? Well, her mother was crazy. Nancy's life, that of her father and two siblings all revolved around her mother Lola, her spells, her attacks, her bizarre behavior, her periodic commitments to mental institutions and electric shock treatments. She is very smart, very glamorous, very theatrical and not very in touch with reality. "I was dreaming,¿ the story begins. She waits until everyone is paying attention. Mort turns off the radio. ¿I am the center of the universe,¿ she says, looking at each of us in turn, making sure we appreciate the significance. ¿And everyone else is a star revolving around me.¿ This is a confession. A revelation. A pronouncement. This is the way of the world. She is Norma Desmond, descending the staircase in Sunset Boulevard, eyes wide and frozen, getting ready for her close-up. She is Salome, stripping the veil off the face of the cosmos. She is my mother, Lola Hornstein. And she is crazy."As she flies home, their father Mort is dead, their mother barely clinging to life, and the three siblings, a psychologist, an emergency-room doctor and the third, Nancy, an advertising copywriter, gather for what everyone assumes will be a double funeral. No one survives that much exposure to CO2 all the doctors say..and if she could possibly live, all the doctors say she will be severely brain damaged. And then the totally unexpected happens. Lola wakes up and, while she will face a number of severe issues in her recovery, she is 'cured' of her mental illness, a recovery doctors say "defies medical explanation." Granted, it is a different Lola that come backs to them. "She won't be herself, Dr. Greely warns me over the phone. Maybe that's good news, I can't help thinking, torn between my blind love for the unknown, new Lola and my practical fear of the old one."This story is full of serious stuff, which in lesser hands could have been the material for one more depressing memoir. There is a history of mental illness in her mother's family, seemingly her mother was the victim of sexual abuse as a child and the recipient of years of medical treatment that offered little help. But in the very skillful hands of Nancy Bachrach, it is anything but. Rather it is funny, very funny and poignant and sweet and a delight to read.
This was the surprise book in my Christmas stash. As I had my mother to stay over the holidays, this was the perfect book to tide me over the difficult days! Nancy's story of her crazy mother is laugh-out-loud funny in places. When her brother calls to tell her that her father has died and her mother is in a coma following a carbon monoxide leak in her father's boat (he did the maintenance himself), he tells her to "prepare yourself for a double funeral.""How do I prepare for a double funeral? Pack two of everything? Pack clothes that are very black?"If you enjoy sharp wit and dark humor, you'll love The Center of the Universe: A Memoir.
The ReviewMemoirs are becoming one my favorite books to read. So many good ones come to mind¿ The Glass Castle, Angela¿s Ashes and The Invisible Wall. This particular memoir is a daughter¿s story of her remarkable mother, Lola. Although many would argue that Lola is plain crazy, the woman is brilliant, beautiful and quirky. Like most mothers, Lola¿s had her share of parenting mistakes that have left a lasting impression on Nancy. Despite the difficulty of dealing with her mother, both in childhood and adulthood, Nancy cannot deny the strength of the deep bond she has with her mom, the uniquely ¿colorful¿ mom that she is! Nancy¿s journey back home upon her father¿s death and mother¿s accidental coma took me for a bit of a loop. For much of the beginning of the story I felt that Nancy was intentionally detached from the situation and from Lola. It almost felt as though she wasn¿t hurting and mourning the loss of her father the way that an adult child normally would. She was the first of the siblings to take a shift taking care of her mother before returning to work in France. During this time, I still felt the distance between Nancy and Lola. But, as the story continues on, I come to realize that much of what Nancy is saying is for the sake of her sanity and the protection of her heart. She does, in fact, love her mother dearly. As her mother recovers from her coma and eventually regains her health, Nancy is there for her in such a strong way. By the end of the book, the love that Nancy feels for Lola is so beautifully apparent.Overall, Nancy handles this traumatic situation with character and grace. You come to learn to laugh with Nancy and love Lola. What more could you ask for?The RatingDespite the psychological depth of this book, Bachrach writes this memoir with memorable wit. She¿s got a great sense of humor¿ you know that dry, cynical way of bringing intelligent laughter. For a debut book, she wrote it quite cleverly and it compels the reader to continue the story. At times, the distance between Nancy and Lola saddened me, but the resilience of their family¿s love made it all worth it in the end. I would recommend this book and found it to be one of the more unique reads of the year, to date!
Sad and funny at the same time.