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When Kelly Corrigan was in high school, her mother neatly summarized the family dynamic as “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” This meant nothing to Kelly, who left childhood sure that her mom—with her inviolable commandments and proud stoicism—would be nothing more than background chatter for the rest of Kelly’s life, which she was carefully orienting toward adventure. After college, armed with a backpack, her personal mission statement, and a wad of traveler’s checks, she took off for Australia to see things and do things and Become Interesting. But it didn’t turn out the way she pictured it. In a matter of months, her savings shot, she had a choice: get a job or go home. That’s how Kelly met John Tanner, a newly widowed father of two looking for a live-in nanny. They chatted for an hour, discussed timing and pay, and a week later, Kelly moved in. And there, in that house in a suburb north of Sydney, 10,000 miles from the house where she was raised, her mother’s voice was suddenly everywhere, nudging and advising, cautioning and directing, escorting her through a terrain as foreign as any she had ever trekked. Every day she spent with the Tanner kids was a day spent reconsidering her relationship with her mother, turning it over in her hands like a shell, straining to hear whatever messages might be trapped in its spiral. This is a book about the difference between travel and life experience, stepping out and stepping up, fathers and mothers. But mostly it’s about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time.
- ISBN-13: 9780345532831
- ISBN-10: 034553283X
- Publisher: Ballantine Books
- Publish Date: February 2014
- Page Count: 224
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-09-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Corrigan (The Middle Place) looks back on a transformative period in her life in the early 1990s. As a college grad determined to see the world and find adventure far from the safety net of her Philadelphia-based family (fans of her previous memoir have already met her outgoing dad, “Greenie,” and her more stoic mom Mary, the “glitter and glue”), she travels to Australia where she soon runs out of money and takes a temporary position as a nanny to two young children whose mother has passed away. Though disappointed to find herself in a mundane job in the suburbs, Corrigan is quickly drawn into the struggle of a family trying to carry on in the absence of its most “irreplaceable” member. As widower John Tanner, his young children, and his stepson Evan wind their way into young Kelly’s heart, she finds herself thinking more and more of her own mother’s voice, of her solid commitment to her children, husband, and faith, and of the lessons one can learn from ordinary life, “which are big, hard beautiful things.” Initially believing that “things happen when you leave the house,” the young Corrigan soon finds that life’s greatest dramas and deepest messages often unfold within the quiet underpinnings of relationships. The author’s fans and newcomers alike will welcome this story that probes the depths of mother-daughter bonds (Feb.)
Cheryl Strayed wrote about how the death of her mother changed her life in the best-selling Wild. In a similar and yet very different vein, Kelly Corrigan writes about the effects of her mom’s presence in a wonderful new memoir, Glitter and Glue.
In an earlier book, The Middle Place, Corrigan paid tribute to her larger-than-life father, “Greenie.” In contrast to her optimistic cheerleader of a father, Corrigan’s mother has always been a practical, worrying realist. As this steadfast woman once explained to her daughter, “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.”
Corrigan remembers as a child longing for a more lively, upbeat mom, but over the years, she’s come to realize what an essential and anchoring influence this glue has been, especially now that she’s a mother herself.
Corrigan first began truly appreciating her mother in 1992, when she ran out of money during an after-college backpacking trip around the world. She ended up as a nanny for John Tanner, an Australian widower with two children: 7-year-old Milly and 5-year-old Martin. There was also a handsome stepson in his early 20s named Evan, who adds a romantic interest to Corrigan’s Down Under adventure.
As Corrigan takes on a motherly role for the Tanner children, she constantly thinks about their late mother, a cancer victim, as she gains new insight into the challenges her own mother faced raising Corrigan and her two brothers. As she eloquently explains: “God knows, every day I spend with the Tanners, I feel like I’m opening a tiny flap on one of those advent calendars we used to hang in the kitchen every December 1, except instead of revealing Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, it’s my mother. I can’t see all of her yet, but window by window, she is emerging.”
Young Corrigan set out on her journey in search of adventure, but along the way learned that many of life’s greatest rewards occur during everyday moments at home. And while this is indeed a “quiet” book in contrast to Strayed’s wild exploits, Glitter and Glue is both riveting and highly readable. Framed by a tight structure and compelling writing, this memoir is refreshingly non-dysfunctional.