Book Review: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
More Than Just A Good Read
By James Myers
THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER
By Kim Edwards
“The doctor felt transported back in time. His sister had been born with a heart defect and had grown very slowly, her breath catching and coughing whenever she had tried to run. For man years, until the first trip to the clinic in Morgantown, they had not known what was the matter. Then they knew and there was nothing they could do. All his mother’s attention had gone to her, and yet she died when she was twelve years old. The doctor had been sixteen, already living in town to attend high school, already on his way to Pittsburgh and medical school and the life he was living now. Still, he remembered the depth and endurance of his mother’s grief, the way she walked uphill to the grave every morning, her arms folded against whatever weather she encountered…Our world will never be the same.”
This is Kim Edward’s first novel, and it is a winner of the first variety. It begins in 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky. During an intense winter storm, the entire area becomes snowbound. Dr David Henry desperately is trying to get his wife, Norah, to the hospital to deliver their first child. Despite his best efforts, the weather forces him to take her to his medical clinic, where he is compelled to perform the delivery himself. With the help of his nurse, Caroline, he is able to deliver his son Paul safely. But Norah delivers an unexpected twin, a second girl-child, Phoebe. Phoebe has Down’s Syndrome.
As a child, David grew up with a sister that had Downs, who died at the age of twelve. His family, poor and uneducated was taxed to their maximum because of this child, and in a crucial decision, he decides to spare his wife and new-borne son the pain of raising a child that is preordained to die. He hands the baby to his nurse Caroline and tells her to dispose of it at a home for Downs children. He then tells his wife that the child passed in childbirth. Caroline drives to the home, but leaves with the baby. She ultimately decides to leave town, and raise the child as her own.
This becomes the ethical dilemma of the story. The parallel of two families raising children, and the secrete that David keeps from his wife and child, draw an uneasy, but eye opening tension in the book, that keeps the reader riveted to page after page. In deceiving his wife, David damages the very things he sought to protect, and Caroline’s desire to find and start her life come into focus in a realistic way she could not have envisioned. Caroline’s life is unexpectantly enriched, while David’s is mercilessly destroyed.
As Paul grows up, Norah and David are more distant and David becomes more reclusive, seemingly only interested in his hobby, taking black and white pictures with his new camera, the memory keeper. Nora never gets over the loss of her child, and throws herself into a new career, and a series of illicit affairs to make up for the loss of intimacy she once had with David. Young Paul looses himself in his music and is confused by his father’s distance and his mother’s disconnection.
There is much more to this wisely crafted tale. In the end, it is about redemption, forgiveness.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful.
In 1964, during an unusual Kentucky blizzard, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver he and his wife Norah's first child, with the help of a nurse; Caroline Gill. Their first child, a boy they name Paul, is born, a visibly perfect child, but it then becomes apparent that Norah is giving birth to twins. When the second baby, a girl, is born; David notices immediately she is a mongoloid (a name given at the time for people with Down syndrome). David, recalling the possibility of heart complications and thinking of his sister, June, who died young due to a heart defect; decides that Phoebe will be placed in an institution to spare Norah the suffering June's death caused his own mother. Caroline, the nurse—who has been in love with David since the moment she met him—is charged with the task of carrying the infant to the institution. After assessing the wretched conditions of the place, however, she decides to keep and raise the baby herself. Rememering Norah's mention of the names she had chosen for her baby, both for a boy and a girl, Caroline names the baby Phoebe. While Caroline is at the store buying baby supplies, her car battery dies and she is stranded in the snow with Phoebe. She is picked up by a truck driver, Albert "Al" Simpson; who lets her shelter with Phoebe in his truck before driving them to Caroline's home in Lexington, and eventually staying there for the night. Meanwhile, David lies to Norah and tells her that their daughter died at birth; leaving his passive wife plagued by post-natal depression as those around her refuse to let her talk about the daughter she lost, treating her as if she should be satisfied with Paul and forget about Phoebe's 'death'. She decides to hold a memorial for Phoebe, and place an announcement in the paper without David's knowledge—astonished, Caroline seeks David out after reading it, and after hearing that she had kept the baby rather than take her to the institution, he bids her to do what she thinks is right. Caroline refuses the money he offers her, and leaves for Pittsburgh to make fresh start there—with Phoebe.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
I bought this book for my book club's monthly selected reading. It tells a morally challenging story, quite heartbreaking really. A doctor is forced to deliver his children when a snowstorm prevents him and his wife from making it to the hospital. The first child is born and is "perfect son", but the second child, a little girl, has Down's Syndrome, which shocks and saddens the doctor. His wife had passed out from the labor and he gives the baby to his nurse to take to a nearby institution. He then tells his wife their daughter died. The nurse decides she can't leave the baby at the institution and raises the baby as her own. The book chronicles the next 25 years of each family dealing with that fateful night's events. Throughout the book, one begins to wonder if the mother will ever find out the truth and if so, will it be through the eventual honesty of her husband or the nurse?
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Great story that tugs at heartstrings
Some friends in my book group didn't like the characters, but I connected with them well. Give me a weekend at home, with the family away, and I devoured the book with Kleenex in hand! It dealt with distance in relationships, that is not always understood, and the ripple effect of that distance.
In this case, the distance was due to a lie set up in the very beginning of the book--a twin born with Down's Syndrome that is given away (setting--early 1960s). In an effort to "protect" his wife, the father/doctor decides to give the baby to his nurse to take to an institution and tells his wife the baby died. The nurse ends up keeping the baby and leaves town for another life. Meanwhile, before the father gets to explaining the truth to the mother, she sets up a memorial/funeral service for the baby and the lie is set in motion.
This book follows the lives of all characters throughout multiple decades. You see the positives and negatives that unfold--what starts as "protection," ends up destroying; lives that were on hold, are set free; lives that were moving, get mired in unresolved grief; distance begets distance; lives that are challenging, develop and blossom; losing one's self in work or hobby can be a wedge and freeing all at the same time.
Whether the premise is believable from the start might be in question, but the 60s were also a funny time. The relationships ring true...at least for me.
Enjoy and pull out the tissues if you're a tissue-type-reader. : )
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
A little disappointed but still a good read.
I enjoyed Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards but probable would not get another of her books. When I heard about it I have to say was was intrigued about something like this really happening but I felt the book read too much like a romance novel instead of general fiction. I wanted to enjoy the relationship between the real mother and the twin and felt let down that they weren't able to enjoy the sweetness and love of the Downs Syndrome girl a little more as she was growing up.