Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
- By Kelly Corrigan
- Ballantine Books
- 224 pp.
- Reviewed by Kristina Moriconi
- February 25, 2014
While working as a nanny, a woman begins to understand her complicated relationship with her own mother.
“Things happen when you leave the house,” Kelly Corrigan writes. And, as often happens throughout her memoir, Glitter and Glue, these things do not always turn out to be quite what she expects.
When financial necessity turns a post-college backpacking adventure across Australia into an unanticipated job as a nanny, Corrigan begins working for John Tanner, a recent widower. She enters the lives of the members of the Tanner family as they struggle not to come undone after the one thing that’s held them together has been taken away.
As Corrigan settles into her new job, the words of her own mother back home in the United States become the rather unexpected advice she both longs for and listens to when she feels most vulnerable or uncertain — instructions for anything from the proper way of cutting meat to the fundamentals of medicating sick children.
What is unique about Glitter and Glue is how this voice is revealed and how readers hear her mother just as Corrigan does; in this way, we are given the opportunity to examine the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship up close. Corrigan thereby illuminates the conflict and the longing, the love and the limitations, so deeply rooted in the bonds of family.
Early on, in the pages of a deeply honest, almost instructive, prologue, Corrigan provides insight into the relationship she has with her mother and how it changes over time: “It didn’t happen all at once,” she writes. “Maybe it was inevitable, something that develops as daily life delivers its sucker punches, streaks of clarity, and slow-dawning wisdoms. But I know when it started: twenty years ago, in the home of Ellen Tanner, a woman I never met.”
The experiences that Corrigan has as a nanny for the young Tanner children change the way she sees her own mother: “This is the first time, here in Australia,” she writes, “that my life has looked and sounded and moved like hers, from bed to kitchen to car and back, and consequently she is everywhere.” For readers interested in the dynamics of family and the ways in which relationships with others shape the self, it is intriguing to witness this evolution.
We also learn from Corrigan’s story that there are distinct differences between the roles of mother and father. Her mother sums it up best when she says, “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” It is in the writer’s journey across one continent, in her coming home then traveling across another continent to build a life for herself, that she is finally able to understand what her mother means by this. While the glue may be practical and hardly visible, it is indispensable when we find ourselves struggling not to come undone.
Glitter and Glue is a book that shines a light on lessons learned through life experience; it is as much about self-discovery as it is the real human need to continually examine our relationships with others — our mothers, our fathers, as well as the unlikely cast of characters we meet along the way. Any reader will discover in this book the importance found in those things that do, in fact, happen when you leave the house.
Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist. She received her MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. Her work has appeared most recently in Cobalt Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Blue Heron Review, and she is the author of a chapbook, No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013).