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[178] The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Kim Edwards

memorykeeper“He considered what he’d said to Paul—that the world was made of hidden things, of secrets; built of bones that never saw the lights.” [202]

This novel lives up to how a split-second decision, preserved by secrets, leads to separate lives. It is 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. David Henry McCallister is determined to rush his wife, Norah, to the hospital in time to deliver their first child. The rare and sudden storm, which ensues treacherous road condition, dictates his diversion to his clinic where he will deliver the baby himself. After the baby boy emerges from the womb, barely having time for relief, Norah is suddenly tightened by another contraction. No matter how scrupulously David has followed the medical steps he knows by heart, he cannot ameliorate the signs of Down syndrome in the forthcoming baby girl.

In a split second as if a reflex, David, reflecting upon the painful loss of his sister who died of a heart condition, decides to discard the baby. He lies to his wife that the baby girl has died at birth in order to spare her what he sees as a life of grief. Instead of dropping little Phoebe at an institution as instructed by the doctor, the 31-year-old nurse Caroline Gill has an impulse to keep the baby and raise her as her own, although it isn’t an uncommon practice to dump babies stricken by Down syndrome at the asylum. She has fought so many battles to make a life for Phoebe in this indifferent world.

As much as Phoebe has endowed meaning to Caroline’s life, her abandonment, and that David has kept it a secret from his wife, has taken a toll on his marriage. He has grown distant and mysterious to his wife, who turns to an all-consuming career and seeks the intimacy that eludes her with her husband through a series of affairs. Paul grows to be a young musician who plays out of anger and frustration, longing to make connection to a joyless father who doesn’t seem to care. David bears it all himself: regret, grief, and guilt.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, as it turns out, only dabbles at Down syndrome and how it impedes Phoebe’s life although it lingers not too far below the surface. The book explores the unexpected impact of unresolved grief. David’s own grief at the loss of his sister, still raw and painful, causes him to take control of his life. But that his daughter was born with Down syndrome was not something that he could anticipate, let alone to control. The outcome is a secret that stands in the middle of the family and a lie that shapes their lives together. The story is well-written, if a tad predictable. 401 pages. [Read/Skim/Toss]

19 Responses

  1. I felt that it was predictable towards the end but I enjoyed the book overall. Great review.

  2. I had wished the book was more about Phoebe than David, but I enjoyed it still.

  3. I picked up this book in a Target one day while my mom ran around to do some shopping, and by page 50, I felt as though I knew exactly what to expect of the next 400. It was well written, but not all that I had hoped for.

  4. I’ve been curious about this book for a while. The reviews are always so mixed that I haven’t quite made up my mind. Your review has allowed me to pass on it. I have a zillion books waiting to be read, I’ll get to them first. Thanks!!

  5. At one point I compared this novel to Middlesex by Eugenides and some of the recent YA offerings about autistic kids, because I thought the interesting part was the way almost everyone was looking for a way to make the daughter fit into their idea of how the world should be. I think those ideas have changed since the 60’s (when most of this novel is set), and that might be why the novel gets mixed reviews.

  6. I had wanted to read this ages ago… then I picked it up in a bookstore and there was something about the blurb that made me decide it wasn’t really for me. To hear that it’s a little predicable makes me glad I didn’t decide to purchase it in the end.

  7. Staci:
    Predictable as it was, I found the twist about a quarter away to the end quite intriguing. That pregnant teenager, if you know what I mean.

  8. mari:
    That’s a surprise to me as well, although I enjoyed reading David’s story. I expected that somewhere down the narrative will shift to Phoebe’s perspective.

  9. Chelsea:
    Yes indeed, I feel the same way about how Kim Edwards paved the storyline for the eventual confrontation. It doesn’t have a lot of surprises in store but is well-written.

  10. Beth F:
    In the review I want to make sure that I mention the book is well-written, but at the end I pick “Skim” over “Read.” This one can wait.

  11. Jeanne:
    Right. Phoebe, in a way, is being tossed around emotionally. The whole point is to make a place for her in the world but everyone, the foster mother included, tries to make her assimilate to the world. Good point.

  12. Kim:
    I can understand why you feel that because it’s as if the blurb has spelled out the whole story.

  13. I enjoyed the book, but enjoyed the movie even more, but I respect your opinion 🙂

  14. The Social Frog:
    This book is made into a movie? Who’s in it? I’ll have to check that out myself! 🙂

  15. I picked this book up at an airport store when I realized I had nothing for the flight. What struck me most about it was the idea that this probably couldn’t happen today. It was on the predictable side, but a good in-flight read. Happy new year!

  16. mari:
    I told myself the same thing when I read the first chapter–about how parents just won’t abandon a child like David did. Even if it’s a predictable book, I think it’s a great one to for a lazy afternoon or a flight. It’s a safe book. 🙂

  17. This book is on my TBR pile and due to its subject area, I had thought that perhaps it could serve as a platform for discussion work on its main themes, including discrimination and tolerance with a couple of my older students.

  18. Regina:
    I sure this book will spawn a lot of discussion ideas but be forewarned that it’s not about Down syndrome. Hope your students enjoy reading it. 🙂

  19. […] A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook […]

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