THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE by Nancy Bachrach

THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sophisticated, funny debut about growing up with a manic mother and coming to terms with a fatal family accident.

Bachrach was in Paris launching a hopeless antiperspirant ad campaign when her brother called with the news that their father Mort was dead and that their mother Lola was in a coma. The couple had spent the night on their docked boat, Mr. Fix It, breathing in carbon monoxide from a generator incorrectly repaired by Mort. Lola, who slept near a leaky porthole that provided a stream of oxygen, was still alive but not expected to pull through. Told to prepare herself for a double funeral, Bachrach wondered how she would do that: “Pack two of everything? Pack clothes that are very black?” The author’s humor is acerbic, rich with allusion and beautifully timed. She describes her mother, pre-coma, theatrically imparting the vision that Lola was the center of the universe and everyone else revolved around her: “She is Salome, stripping the veil off the face of the cosmos. She is my mother, Lola Hornstein. And she is crazy.” Bachrach returned to Providence to aid her siblings, a piano-playing surgeon and an art-therapy professor. Mort’s funeral was packed. “My father on his own would have been a so-so draw,” she writes, “but this crowd thought they were coming for a double bill.” Instead, Lola awoke, but as a sedated, babbling version of the brilliant, electrically energetic woman who raised them. Bachrach rooted for her mother to overcome the doctors’ diagnoses of permanent brain damage, but she was carrying around some bitterness from a quirky childhood, and intermittent flashbacks make it easy to see why. Lola’s manic episodes weren’t unique; the family history was rife with mad geniuses.

With smart, subtle prose, Bachrach limns a journey toward love that feels fresh, organic and as unpredictable as life itself.

Pub Date: May 4th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-27090-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2009