Special Issues » 2009 Book Issue

The Center of the Universe

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The Center of the Universe
By Nancy Bachrach
Knopf • 256 pages

A lot of people think their eccentric families warrant a tell-all memoir — sometimes they're right, sometimes they're grossly mistaken. But Nancy Bachrach's family wasn't just strange, or even a little wacky. She grew up with a mother who was positively certifiable — we're talking electro-shock therapy crazy — but, like most people's mothers, she was the center of Nancy's world.

Lola spent her children's youth in and out of therapy, on various drugs, and occasionally, as a last resort, hospitalized. But her husband and children were completely enamored of her, because besides being deeply paranoid and disturbed at times, she was a beautiful and dynamic woman, a glamorous movie star in their world.

The Center of the Universe begins in Paris, where Nancy lives and receives the news that her father has died and her mother is in a coma. This triggers a flood of memories and complicated emotions related to her family, particularly her mother.

Despite everything, she hopes that her mother wakes up. But when she does, she's different. The crazy seems to be gone, along with everything that made her the vibrant personality she always was.

The Center of the Universe provides an honest look at mental illness, family, and true love. It's been compared to work by David Sedaris, and in its dry, smart humor it's similar, but it's much darker. If you think your family's crazy, read this book. You may change your mind. But you may also rethink the idea of crazy altogether. —Erica Jackson

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