I happen to a big fan of the memoir genre, especially when the writer skillfully relates a true story in a manner that reads like creative fiction. Having devoured everything by David Sedaris, I approached Nancy Bachrach’s The Center of the Universe with excitement because of the multiple comparisons to Sedaris’ wry and witty works.
While I found myself laughing and reading in amazement at the story laid out, I think I would be more inclined to compare Bachrach’s style to that of Augusten Burroughs, with a remarkable ability to convey a family history of pain without sorrowful remorse, but instead with a large dose of dark humor. Chronicling her mother’s story, including family secrets and a history beyond just “colorful,” Bachrach opens a window on mental illness, from the perspective of an observant and thoughtful daughter.
After a serious accident, whose “accidentalness” depends somewhat on how you define the word itself, Bachrach’s father dies at an unexpectedly early age, and her mother’s recovery is a long shot. Uncertainty about what recovery would mean for a woman with a lifelong history of significant mental illness bonds Bachrach with her brother and sister, as they step into care taking roles as their mother defies all medical predictions, and they must learn to navigate a whole new road in their relationship with her, a road that’s been anything but smooth their whole lives.
A memoir that can chronicle observations of a mentally ill mother and the subsequent different-than-average perspective on relationships and the world at large is a powerful thing, but one that can do it with a sublime sense of humor is remarkable. Bachrach’s tone sometimes appears detached, while at other times is painfully entrenched in the emotional upheaval of the universe revolving around her mother, yet never falls into the realm of ‘woe-is-me.’ One can almost see the smirk on her face as she presents this utterly incredible story of a wild family history that includes systemic abuse, mental illness, and more than its fair share of covering it all up, because it seems as if all they have left is the ability to have a few chuckles and wonder at it all, or else who knows where they would be.
The Center of the Universe is a painful, yet so very funny, memoir that left me shaking my head in amazement that people can survive experiences such as these.
Dawn’s life wouldn’t make for a very interesting memoir, but it does provide some fun blog posts on my thoughts exactly.