The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Memory Keepers Daughter Edwards, Kim. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. New York: Penguin, 2006.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Back when this book first came out, I was still living up in Connecticut, and I had just discovered book blogs. I remember quite a few bloggers were reading it and reviewing it, so it stuck in my mind (even though I don’t remember what they had to say about it). When we moved down here to Lancaster County, I got a copy of the CD audio version from the library, all excited that it was performed by Martha Plimpton, an actress I’ve loved ever since I first saw her in The Goonies. Apparently, I was so excited about Plimpton that I didn’t  realize it was an abridged version until I was about two chapters into it. I hate abridged versions, always wondering what’s been left out and why (also, there’s that whole Cliff Notes sort of aspect to abridgments that I guess my inner-English teacher doesn’t like). Anyway, I abandoned it, without too much regret, because I hadn’t been all that enthralled. Now I’m wondering why I wasn’t.

You see, this go-round (and the only reason I read it was that Lisa chose it for the library’s book discussion group), I loved it. I was riveted from the beginning, immediately dragged into this story about a doctor who decides to give away his Down’s Syndrome baby (the twin sister of his non-Downs son) as soon as she is born, without ever telling his wife that she had this second child. I know we live in a different time and place, but it just seemed unfathomable to me that a man could choose to “get rid” of a less-than-perfect baby this way, especially once he’d seen her and held her.

Of course, in reality, it’s not unfathomable at all. Today, some choose just to abort such babies, but, of course, no one would have had that option back in 1964, which is when this story takes place. Anyway, Kim Edwards has taken this circumstance and imagined all its repercussions in very believable ways. She’s raised many, many good questions along the way, not the least of which are:

1) What is it, exactly, to “protect” someone the way David Henry decides to “protect” his wife Nora by not telling her about their daughter?

2)Does a child have to be “normal”, and what, exactly, does that mean? Can one not love as much and be loved as much by a child who isn’t “normal” by society’s standards, and how could someone not see that the answer to that question has to be “yes”?

3) How do secrets destroy a marriage? A family?

I felt sorry for Nora, the quintessential 1960s wife. She’d been taught to be the “good girl”, that this role brought reward. In the end, though, it didn’t. It meant “obeying” a man she barely knew, stifling her own sense of independence and adventure, acting out her rage through unsatisfying affairs.

Edwards draws a fascinating contrast between Nora and Caroline (the nurse who adopts the abandoned baby Phoebe). She explores the two children and the lives they inherit due to David’s decision, and, in doing so, she gives us a slight glimpse of the ways women’s lives evolved from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. She’s honest without being brutal, and presents her story with all its complications: the devastation I expected from such a story, but also a tenderness I didn’t expect. I enjoyed the book immensely, from beginning to end (much to my surprise).