OAKLAND -- Moms matter. Every person is somebody's child. Parents love, often messily.
Three simple, universal concepts are swept up by writer Kelly Corrigan and transformed into a trio of captivating memoirs: New York Times bestseller "The Middle Place" (2008), "Lilt" (2010) and in 2014, her newbie, "Glitter and Glue."
At a book launch co-presented by Montclair Presbyterian Church and Montclair bookstore A Great Good Place for Books on Feb. 4, the Piedmont resident and author told the audience that being a writer is "exactly what I always wanted to do."
Corrigan's family centric books are what many readers always wanted to read, which makes for a happy marriage and solid book sales. Each book is a snapshot in words, filled with rough reality, aw-shucks revelation and Corrigan's ever-present, quirky sense of humor.
Another trio, this one in the form of three women from Orinda in the audience, hadn't read Corrigan's newest book, but already knew they'd like it.
"I loved 'The Middle Place.' It was relatable to me," Cheryl Ryner said. "I look at it on my bookshelf and I want to read it again."
Finola Fellner said they had come to hear Corrigan speak because they are mothers. "That's what connected us," she said, indicating Ryner and Maria Solit. "Corrigan's ideas are like us: obvious and real."
Solit dug deeper for explanation of the bond between friends -- a bond extended to a book she'd yet to read and an author who was, essentially, a stranger.
"Corrigan is a mother, daughter, sister," she said. "She's trying to embrace every aspect of that, rather than stress and do what all of us do."
And what do stressed-out women do? We think too much, Solit answered. Corrigan's opening comments about her craft proved Solit's point. After a book is complete, she confessed, she thinks about it -- a lot.
"I'm just learning now what 'Glitter and Glue' is about," she said. "It's about a key of all emotions: acceptance."
The "glitter" in her book's title and life is her father, Greenie, an ebullient salesman and 24/7 lacrosse coach who called her "Lovey" and with whom she was enormously fixated during her entire childhood. Unsurprisingly, the "glue"' is her mother, an introverted woman whose sharply recalled criticisms appear like italicized missiles on the book's pages. "Glitter and Glue" is based on a journal Corrigan kept during her four-month, post-college odyssey to Australia in 1992.
Escaping the push-pull dynamic of her relationship with her parents -- and pursuing her "things happen when you leave the house" philosophy -- Corrigan aims her ambitions toward the continent's coral reefs and outback blokes.
Instead, she winds up cash-poor and nanny to the children of John Tanner, a widower. The family's grief-disturbed everyday life, Corrigan writes, was "like crossing a gorge on a wire." While the Tanner family alternately floats or fights its way out of death's lingering fog, Corrigan discovers she's not unlike her mother. The silently bitter inner dialogue she has carried from childhood into young adulthood dissolves in the face of near-desperate grabs for the children's affection. Firm (and failing), I'm-steering-the-ship-efforts, like her mother performed, lead to a realization: "I'm only as good as my last shark throw or grilled PB&J." Separated by vast geographical distance, she draws close: Her mother's "motherness" no longer blocks her view.
Throughout, Corrigan never sinks into the mediocrity of retaliatory tattling. She's pursuing insight, not incitement. A good part of the appeal of "Glitter and Glue" lies in the way she allows the reader's heart to be shredded on her behalf (sharing that her mother extended the "children seen and not heard" adage with "and preferably not seen"), then elevates the soul with frank admissions of her own culpability in what was their fractured relationship.
In person, Corrigan was as "obvious and real" as Fellner's description.
"A thing I've come to realize is, it's an ugly business, a holy mess," she said, about motherhood. Moments later, her long-ago nannying, becoming a parent herself, surviving cancer (which caused her to crave, not cringe at, her mother's voice) and writing her book allowed her to introduce her mother in new terms.
"She's a woman without much regret," Corrigan said. "She's solid, but she's not showy, affectionate. She wouldn't sit still if I tried to tell her, 'You're wonderful.' So I snuck her this 300-page love letter in front of everyone."
Author Kelly Corrigan's next Bay Area event will be at City Arts and Lectures at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., San Francisco. Corrigan will be in conversation with author Anna Quindlen. Tickets are $27. For more information, go to: http://www.cityarts.net/event/kelly-corrigan-anna-quindlen.