Memoir Book Review of The Center of the Universe by Nancy Bachrach

by Matilda Butler on October 20, 2009

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #23 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

What is the tone of your memoir? How do you find the right tone both for you and for your story? Thinking about writing your story using a humorous tone? Then you’ll want to read Nancy Bachrach’s new memoir, The Center of the Universe.


The author tells a mother-daughter story that many might say describes a somber situation. Yet, Nancy drew on the strength of her humor to share her story. Nancy’s mother had a long and tangled psychiatric history that created a chaotic childhood for the author, a childhood that she smoothed out with large doses of humor — black humor.

In her memoir, Nancy’s humorous take on events begins with the phone call informing her of her father’s death and her mother’s coma both the result of accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning on her parents’ boat named Mr. Fix-It. Her father, AKA Mr. Fix-It, never lived up to his nickname and inadvertently caused the release of carbon-monoxide on the boat that killed him. Her mother comes out of the coma but has a short-lived recovery that soon turned to “irreversible brain damage.” While Nancy and her siblings worry about their mother and try to provide the best care possible, they also recognize the hopelessness of her condition.

Then the impossible, or at least nearly impossible, happened. The irreversible brain damage reversed. Nancy’s mother regained speech and mobility and became a new person no longer able to remember what she had been like.

Nancy Bachrach

Nancy Bachrach

Nancy protected her mother by changing her name before the memoir was published. Nancy writes in her guest blog on our website: “But the day it was released, she “out”-ed herself–she showed up at her local bookstore and announced she was there to sign copies!”

A brief summary of a book can never provide the texture of the writing and for those of us working on memoirs, the writing is the heart of the story. Even though individual lines quoted from a book lack the context, let me provide two examples from Nancy Bachrach’s memoir to suggest how she uses her dark sense of humor to effectively handle the subject matter and to keep us turning the pages.

This first excerpt is from the Author’s Note. You’ll see how quickly the author lets the reader know what her tone will be.

“Resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is large unavoidable in a true story, due to the nature of reality. So names have been changed, and events have been gently reshuffled–something they do on their own anyway, over time. A few living persons have been airbrushed, but the dead were fair game–and although my pen is a blunt instrument, no one was actually killed in the making of this book.”

By now, I was already smiling and felt I knew a little about what the author as narrator would be like.

In this second excerpt, Nancy’s brother has called her in Paris to tell her that their father has died and their mother is in a coma. Her brother Ben says:

“”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.” (p. 7)

From these examples, you can quickly discern the tone of the memoir. Humor is the author’s way of handling the current situation, a coping mechanism well-learned as a child in a loving, but dysfunctional family. By sharing her humor with us, we better understand the author.

What will be the tone of your memoir? You have to find one that works both for you and your story. Your particular blend will be unique to you and should let the reader “see” you in your writing.

If you’d like to read Nancy Bachrach’s guest blog and writing prompt, CLICK HERE. We also interviewed Nancy, and her insightful comments about writing a memoir can be found HERE.

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