The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Fiction; 401 pgs
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: The snow started to fall several hours before her labor began.
Where Book Came From: My TBR collection (where it’s sat since 10/2006)
Reason for Reading: I have wanted to read this book for quite some time, but other books always seemed to take priority. The upcoming discussion at On the Porch Swing seemed like the perfect excuse to fit this fine novel in.
Comments: Kim Edwards has written a masterpiece. The author sweeps the reader into the story immediately as a blizzard rages outside and Norah Henry goes into labor. It is winter in 1964, and Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his own baby. He could not be more proud to discover he has a healthy baby boy. He was not prepared for what came next: the birth of his daughter, who showed signs of having Downs Syndrome. David makes the momentous decision to turn his daughter over to his nurse, Caroline Gill, instructing her to take the baby to a nearby institution, where he believes she will receive the best care. Caroline follows David’s instructions only to decide at the last minute to keep the baby and raise her on her own. What follows is the story of these two families and how their lives are impacted by that one decision. It is a heart wrenching story, and yet also one of hope.
Each of the characters found a place in my heart. Their struggles became my own each time I lost myself in the pages of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. I could see the bad decisions before they were made, felt the disappointment and loss, and shared in the hope or improvement and change: Norah in her grief, Paul in his need for approval, Caroline in her struggle to do what is right, Phoebe for her innocence, and even David, with his guilt and heavy burden of maintaining a secret heavier than he could bear. To some degree, each character felt disconnected from each other and at times themselves. As much as I disapproved of David’s decision, Kim Edwards was still able to craft his character in such a way to make him sympathetic.
This novel reminded me of the value of open communication and honesty in a relationship. Dark secrets drive wedges between people, keeping them a part and slowly eroding the family. Although the biggest secret came with the birth of Paul and Phoebe, David’s character was always secretive, not wanting to share too much of a past he was ashamed of. His secrecy created a natural barrier between him and others, making it impossible for anyone to get too close to him.
The topic of developmental delay and retardation, specifically Downs Syndrome, was a major point in Kim Edward’s book. The author deftly wove the details into the story without being heavy handed. The prejudice and recommended care options of the time period being less than sympathetic. Institutionalization was perceived to be one of the best options for children and adults with these conditions. Education and career options were extremely limited. It took parent activism to spearhead the movement in correcting those harmful views. While things are better today than they were back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, they are not completely resolved.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter deserves the high praise it has received. Kim Edwards carefully spins her tale, dropping a stone in the pond and following the ripples to where ever they lead. The novel is beautifully written and the characters well developed. I liked the pace of the story, the breakdown and shifting of the time, which moved to story along and captured the feel and important details of the story. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a thought-provoking novel that will stay with me for a long time to come.
Favorite Part: Two scenes most stand out in my mind: Norah’s tackling of the wasps’ nest, which was comical while at the same time a very telling and life-changing moment in the story; and the meeting with the Board of Education when Caroline stands up to the board, arguing why Phoebe deserves an education like every other child.
I liked the character of Al, the truck driver, who seemed a stable force throughout the book. He was not perfect, of course, but his loyalty and supportiveness touched me.
Note about the Author: Kim Edwards got the idea for this novel from her pastor. She dismissed the idea at first, but as the years passed found herself coming back to it. Thank goodness for that!
Upcoming novels: The author is working on her next novel called The Dream Master. I definitely will plan on checking it out when it is released.
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