Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Oh, this book. Where to begin? The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards takes place in the 1960’s during a time of juxtaposed  family values and civil unrest. It was published in 2005, and it only took the Lifetime Movie Network three years to produce a made-for-tv version of this story. Since I tend to be a little slow on the uptake as far as the New York Times Bestsellers List goes, it took me a few years to get around to reading this novel. And a long couple of weeks to finish reading it.

The Memory Keeper's DaughterThroughout the novel, story focuses its eye on a handful of characters: Dr. David Henry, his wife Norah, his son Paul, and his nurse Caroline Gill over the span of about 20 years.  The books starts off with newlyweds David and Norah. After a whirlwind romance of only a few short months, the couple is engaged, married, then pregnant. David adores his wife and so when she goes into labor, he is both excited and nervous to learn that he will have to deliver his own child, since an unexpected Kentucky snowstorm has permanently delayed her attending OB/GYN. He calls his ever faithful, unwavering (and deeply in love) nurse, Caroline Gill to go ahead of them and open his clinic and help him with the delivery. On the way there, Norah happily notes that their lives will never be the same. And she’s right, but not in the way she imagined.

Since this was the 60’s, upon arrival at the clinic Norah is gassed senseless and goes through labor unconscious. Dr. Henry is ecstatic to welcome a new baby boy (Paul) into the world. But this happiness is short-lived when his wife unexpectedly bears a twin, this time a daughter. A daughter with obvious signs of Down Syndrome. Remembering his own painful childhood, with a terminally ill sister resulting in impoverished, worried parents, David Henry makes a choice that will change his life and the lives of those around him forever.

He hands the baby to Caroline and gives her the address to an institution. To take his daughter (Phoebe) there and thus keep his wife unburdened by the terrible hardship his own mother suffered when his sister died. Caroline numbly follows his instructions, but then, finding the institution to be a terrible place, takes the baby, moves to Pittsburgh, and raises her as her own. In the meantime, instead of telling Norah the truth about Phoebe, he tells her that the baby died at birth– sending Norah into a deep spiral of drinking and depression. She is haunted by her “dead” daughter throughout the rest of her life, and never recovers from that sense of loss. This same sense of loss is ultimately what tears her away from her husband and into the arms of other men, and away from her son into the business world.  David watches his life take a tailspin and weathers it all without interjection because of the deeply embedded guilt he struggles with.

He’d made a choice on the beach; he’d left Norah’s clothes lying on the sand, her laughter spilling into the light. He’d gone back to the cottage and worked with the photos, and when she’d come in and hour or so later, he hadn’t said a thing about Howard. He’d kept this silence because his own secrets were darker, more hidden, and because he believed that his secrets had created hers.

Edwards’ writing style, while prosaic at times, left me wanting more. Never once during reading this book did I ever feel any sort of connection with the characters, nor care what happened to them. It was a struggle for me to finish this book, because although the content was deep, the execution was shallow. Yes, bad things happened, yes, choices were made. But at the end of the day, did I lose sleep wondering what would happen to them? No. It was also distracting to me that Edwards’ used the same analogies several times throughout the story, comparing babies’ hands to starfish and calling Paul’s voice/guitar notes “winged” things. We get the picture. The first five times. When I learned that Edwards’ writing style had been compared to Alice Sebold’s, I was offended on Sebold’s behalf. I really wish this story had been written by someone else.  Bottom line: don’t waste your time.

2 of 5 stars.

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Old Book

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Photo courtesy of Benjamin Gould


Quote of the Day: Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Artist Unknown...


Quote of the Day: Toby Barlow

Running Wolf

 

“The bullet we’re running from is almost never the one that hits us.”

-From Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

 

 


Quote of the Day: Ruth Renkel

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.”

-Ruth Renkel


Poem: William Stafford

Being a Person

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke

the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.

Let any season that wants to come here make its own

call. After that sound goes away, wait.

A slow bubble rises through the earth

and begins to include sky, stars, all space,

even the outracing, expanding thought.

Come back and hear the little sound again.

Suddenly this dream you are having matches

everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.

If a different call came there wouldn’t be any

world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.

How you stand here is important. How you

listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.

-William Stafford


All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Dubbed “the greatest war novel of all time” by critics, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is historical fiction set from the German perspective during World War I. Remarque himself was a veteran of WWI and thus had an interesting and informed point of view while writing this novel. All Quiet on the Western FrontNot only were the battle scenes appropriately anxiety-ridden and gruesome, the other events (such as coming home on leave and an extended hospital stay) were appropriately detailed. First published as a novel in 1929, within 18 months it had sold 2.5 million copies in 25 languages worldwide.

The narrator is 19 year old Paul Bäumer, who joined the army after the vehement insistance of his high school teacher. The story tells not of the harrowing adventures of himself and his companions, but more of the extreme physical discomfort of the soliders throughout the war. It was intriguing to notice that the fear of imminent death often took a backseat to the creature comforts so sorely missed by the men (food, sleep, sex, hygiene, etc…) and that the hardship of missing one’s civilian life and family had faded in the young soliders’ minds.

Since I normally don’t read this genre of fiction, it was a new experience for me to feel the nervous tension of the soliders awaiting an impending bombardment. To feel the gnawing hunger of the young men sent to defend a football field-sized piece of land for days on end with barely any provisions. Not to mention the numbness to comrade’s pain, death, and suffering in order to simply carry on. Coming to terms with the fact that one’s job is to take as many lives as possible would be a very hard thing indeed, especially for a 19 year old. After his first kill in close combat, Paul laments:

“Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony– Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up– take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.”

Pretty powerful. This is definitely the right book for war/history fanatics, as well as those looking to gain perspective into what life for a solider was like in such a horrific environment. Although the story didn’t end in the way that I had hoped, it definitely impacted me intensely. It was very easy for me to draw parallels to today’s war– because although the technologies and the participants may be different– the underlying emotions and inhumanities experienced during such traumatic events are the same.

4 out of 5 stars.