The Center of the Universe: A Memoir (Hardcover)

A Memoir

By Nancy Bachrach

Knopf, 9780307270900, 256pp.

Publication Date: April 28, 2009



Nancy Bachrach is living in Paris, selling deodorant to the French, when a freak accident kills her father aboard his cabin cruiser, the aptly dubbed Mr. Fix It, in her incongruously named hometown of Providence. Her mother, Lola, the self-proclaimed “center of the universe,” whose medical history reads like the chapter headings of a psychiatric manual, lies in a coma “on death’s waiting list.” Nancy rushes home and sits by her mother’s ventilator—thinking about Sunny von Bülow and eyeing the plug. Thus begins a family reunion with her brother, Ben (a piano prodigy and eventual surgeon who was born with three thumbs), and sister, Helen (the wild child, now an “abnormal psychologist”).

This is a dark, hilarious tale of genius, madness, ineptitude, collateral damage, and hope—with an ending that’s improbable, as only the truth can be. Aching and tender, unflinching and wry, The Center of the Universe is a multi generational mother-daughter story—a splendid, funny, lyrical book about family, truth, memory, and the resilience of love.

About the Author

Nancy Bachrach worked in advertising in New York and Paris, spinning hot air like cotton candy, glorifying her clients' beloved denture adhesives and powdered orange-juice substitutes. Before that, she was, sequentially, a clumsy waitress at Howard Johnson's, an overzealous customer service rep fired for making genuine apologies, a stenographer for an insomniac poet, and a teaching assistant in the philosophy department at Brandeis University, where she was one chapter ahead of her class. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

Praise For The Center of the Universe: A Memoir

Praise for Nancy Bachrach’s The Center of the Universe

“A sophisticated, funny debut. . . . With smart, subtle prose, Bachrach limns a journey toward love that feels fresh, organic and as unpredictable as life itself.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Piquant and ribald . . . Bachrach’s prose is wry, risky, and feels like she has found her moment at last.”
Publishers Weekly

“[The Center of the Universe] has a freshness and loopy humor . . . infused with humanizing pathos, and readers may well tear through this compelling read in a single sitting.”

“Bachrach is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, period. Make room on the shelf next to Sedaris, Eggers, Wilsey. Our new bad boy of memoir is here and she’s middle-aged, mildly manic and my god, we’ve been waiting a long time for her.”
—Alexandra Fuller, author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight

“Of the many ways to deal with a father’s sudden death and a mother’s injury and madness, Nancy Bachrach chooses breezy comedy. Like the best of the stand-ups, she pushes the wisecrack and irony to the outer limits in this smart, fast-paced family memoir of disaster.”
—Alix Kates Shulman, author of To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed

“Every once in a while you come across a memoir that resonates so true to your life that you think, ‘If I were only as witty and charming, I could have written that!’ Or, as was the case for me when reading The Center of the Universe by Nancy Bachrach, ‘Oh my God, my daughter could have written this.’ Even if you are lucky enough not to over-identify with Bachrach’s completely crazy mother, you’re bound to be moved by this terrific book.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

“Nancy Bachrach is a sharp observer of all around her and has a piercing ironic humor that serves as a dearly needed life preserver. The Center of the Universe is one of those stories that grabs you by the throat and leaves you proud of our capacity to survive and laugh and enjoy.”
—Anne Roiphe, author of Epilogue: A Memoir