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.

About Chelsea McDonald

As an avid reader since I was big enough to hold a book, I continue to enjoy losing myself in the thrall of a good story on a daily basis. Since many of my cohorts do not share the same passion, Cracking Spines will be the perfect outlet to express my adulation or frustration concerning the books that cross my path. In this way, my loyal followers will be able to enjoy the stories that are worthwhile and avoid the duds altogether. I also have a Shelfari account at View all posts by Chelsea McDonald

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