Nancy Bachrach is funny, but Nancy Bachrach is also somewhat repetitive. Maybe that comes from being a public relations spinner, maybe it comes from being a first-time author, maybe it comes from having a tough, very personal tale to relate. Regardless, I wish her editor had convinced her to shave about 40 pages from this otherwise delightful memoir of a family’s response to a bittersweet tragedy.
In The Center of the Universe, Bachrach takes readers along on her transformative journey that begins with the news that her father is dead and her mother in a “comma” (a spelling mistake in her hospital chart) following a bizarre boating accident. Indisputably the center of the family’s universe and this book, Lola is Bachrach’s manic-depressive mother. Hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking vignettes help readers get to know the kooky, vivacious woman who was Lola before she becomes a veritable vegetable with permanent irreversible (permversability, to borrow Bachrach’s term) brain damage.
With amusing, apt descriptions, Bachrach paints the rest of her family portrait: father Mort, the incompetent “Mr. Fix It” most likely responsible for the carbon monoxide poisoning that kills him and incapacitates Lola; Dr. Ben, the younger brother born with three thumbs who goes on to become a piano prodigy and surgeon (“a lung specialist in New York’s busiest emergency room, with a need to come to the rescue so old and so deep that only triage at Bellevue seems to satisfy it.”); younger, wilder sister “Hellish”/Helen, who twists the family trait for craziness into an abnormal psych specialization; grandmother Leah, the guardian angel who knows how to show the kids a good time while Lola is getting a dose of electricity – again; prizefighter/grandfather Monty, who either rescued or tried to drown a few of the children; great grandfather, the rabbi with an interesting Prohibition era arrest record; and a ward full of colorful (i.e. criminal or lunatic) aunts and uncles.
Bachrach’s educational and professional background is evident in her ability to turn a familiar phrase into a comic term. Indeed, she relates that she settled on advertising because she “fell for the notion of creative thinkers who valued pithiness.” Pithiness is just what readers get on this rollicking road to recovery. Bachrach just can’t seem to resist repeating some of her best phrases and anecdotes. She also assumes that most readers will understand her references to Hebrew terms, practices and slang – but as Lola would say, “Half-right is fine.”
Readers will rejoice with the family about the medical miracle that is Lola while laughing about the relative normalcy of a somewhat dotty senior citizen who decorates with frames still displaying the store photos, pitches her walker in a trash bin, and changes light bulbs in her underwear and heels. Readers will also end up loving Lola, and wishing they had a lunch buddy who can tell a funny story like Nancy Bachrach. Be sure to visit Bachrach’s website (www.nancybachrach.com) for family photos and interviews.