November 7, 2010
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
2005 Penguin Books
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own. Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love.
Most of us have experienced grief at some point in our lives, and I can honestly say that losing a child is the worst. So why didn't this book resonate more strongly with me? To be lied to about the death of one's child has got to be one of the most cruel acts a person can inflict on another human being. That it was Norah's very own husband who deceived her about their daughter's death is despicable. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to later discover that the child was alive and well, not to mention being raised by another woman.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a compelling read, holding my interest from beginning to end, and yet it still somehow managed to miss the mark: It was a good book, but not a great one. The characters, held at arm's length (reminiscent of Frank and April Wheeler in Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road), are unsympathetic and tedious, and the plot is predictable and contrived. Still, I'm sorry my book club wasn't able to meet in October, because The Memory Keeper's Daughter was thought-provoking and rich with discussion material, in spite of its flaws.