The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Book Review

So – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Okay.  I’m not really sure where to start with this one.  It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away bits of the story, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want to hear anything about it until you do, proceed with caution.

This book had the potential to be really great.  Newly married couple, they get pregnant right away – madly in love with each other, all the hopes and dreams of a new relationship and a marriage about to welcome a baby into the mix.  There is a twist thrown in though that changes everything, forever.  Norah goes into labour in the middle of a snowstorm and David, who is a doctor (albeit the kind that fixes broken bones) is forced to deliver his own child.  The only thing is, this is 1964, and they were unaware that there was not one, but two children ready to enter the world on that snowy night.  The first child is born, a son, who seems perfect in every way.  The second child a daughter, comes next and it is obvious to her father and the nurse that is there to help them, Caroline, that she has Down’s Syndrome.

Driven by secrets and memories from his past, a driving need to protect his wife – who is in and out of it during the birth process and is not aware of what is going on, and their newborn son from the sorrows of having to deal with the life and probable early death of this little girl, he gives her to Caroline, asking her to take her to an institution.  He then tells his wife that their second baby died.

Caroline takes Pheobe, the baby girl, to this institution but is unable to leave her there and instead leaves town and raises Phoebe on her own.

The story goes from there, spanning over a 20+ year time frame.  You see how one act, remaining a secret can corrode the family from the inside out.  There are tons of issues from this – David dealing with this secret and eventually realizing that he did the wrong thing, Norah dealing with the loss of her daughter, and Paul, their son, dealing with having to grow up in this dysfunction, which seems perfect from the outside, but the hairline cracks in the finish grow larger and larger each passing year.

I think the problem that I have with this story is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Sure, the years go by, things happen, people grow, people grow apart.  But these people kept going in circles.  It was just a constant story of people that loved each other but couldn’t show it.  Norah and David, David and Paul, they would take one step forward and then 50 steps back.

To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t stand the character Norah.  I expected to be sorry for her and to like her, just because of her circumstances.  Alas, this was not to be.  I have never lost a child, thank God, and I can imagine that it would be the worst pain ever in the world.  It would take time to get over.  In a way, you would never get over it.  But Norah just comes across as weak.  When we experience loss in our lives, we deal with it, and we move on.  I know that saying that makes it sound easy, which it isn’t.  But we do what we have to do to move past and live life for the living.  Norah never got past the “death” of her daughter, but instead of turning to her family and her husband for help, she resorted to drinking, affairs, and whatever other escape method she could come up with.

The story of David was actually quite tragic.  Coming from a poor past, where he lost his sister when she was very young, he truly believed he was doing the right thing when he sent Phoebe away.  Of course he realized that he never should have, but he ended up living out the rest of his existence with this huge weight on his chest that he was never able to get rid of.  Yes, his action was what started all of the dysfunction in this family, but I don’t like how the story is laid out with the blame placed entirely on him.  Things happen to people in life.  It is how we deal with these things that shape who we are.

Paul actually bugged me quite a bit too.  It seemed to me that David loved Paul more than anything in the world, and tried to connect with him time and time again.  His concern when Paul decided to pursue music was born out of a true concern for his son.  Not that he didn’t recognize his talent, not that he didn’t believe that he couldn’t do something with it.  Coming from a past where you had nothing makes you want to make sure that your kids grow up with something.  It’s hard to get past that.  Paul came across to me like a bit of a spoiled brat that pouted when he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear from his father and turned it around to his father not loving him.  What he failed to realize that his father loved him enough to ask the hard questions and take the hard stance.

The one person in this story that actually got a great deal in life was Phoebe.  Yes, she has Down’s Syndrome.  She has difficulties, and she will never really be able to support and look after herself.  But she was raised in a loving environment, by a woman that was strong enough and capable enough to care for her, and fight for her rights to education and health care.  Even though Caroline was not her biological mother, she loved her as much as, or possibly more than she would have if she had carried her herself.  Nothing in this story shows me that Norah had the tools to deal with raising a special needs child, and I have a feeling that she would have let that destroy the family just as much as losing her altogether did.

Overall it was good.  Frustrating, yes.  But good.  Not great.  I read the book in a few days, which says to me that it flowed nicely and was interesting enough to keep my attention.  I just feel that with a basic story like this, there were so many possibilities, and I was left at the end saying…..meh.  But hey, there must have been something good in the writing, in order to cause all these reactions, emotions and ramblings from me – good or bad.

 

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