The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

By Ekta R. Garg

January 19, 2011

Rated: Bookmark it!

Occasionally a book comes along that astounds readers with its depth of story as well as its elegant proseKim Edwards’ 2005 novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, is one such book.

On a snowy March day in Kentucky in 1964, Dr. David Henry rushes his pregnant wife to his clinic.  Unable to attain the services of his wife’s obstetrician when she suddenly goes into labor, David delivers his own fraternal twins and is shocked when his daughter is born with Down syndrome.  Following the recommended guidelines of the day, David entreats the nurse who helps him to take the infant to a home without telling his wife, Norah.  Caroline, the nurse, follows doctor’s orders: she’s in love with him, although her feelings are wholly unreciprocated, and she knows no more than David Henry about what kind of life Phoebe, the baby, might have.

But when she arrives at the home for the mentally challenged, Caroline can’t bear to leave Phoebe there and takes Phoebe to Pittsburgh where she starts a new life as Phoebe’s mother.  David, meanwhile, lies to his wife and says Phoebe died in childbirth.  While Norah is able, somewhat, to enjoy her new son, Paul, she’s also encompassed with the grief of losing her daughter.  And David Henry carries the terrible secret of the truth of Phoebe’s existence.

Author Edwards sets up a tall order for herself in this premise, and she doesn’t shy away from its complexities or implications.  Whether its describing Norah’s depression caused by the “death” of her daughter or David’s increasing distance from his wife and son because of his guilt, Edwards goes deep within each of the four main characters to let us know just how they cope with the consequences of David’s life-altering decision.  The most heartbreaking element comes in knowing that only two of these four characters know just what has caused the wild trajectory of their lives, but neither of those two is going to speak up.

Each main character—David, Norah, Caroline, and, later, David’s son Paul—provides his or her own angst to the mix, and none of them are one-dimensional.  Edwards very obviously knows each character as well as she knows herself; when we’re faced with one point of view or the other, we can sympathize and commiserate with that point of view.  In the book, as in real life, there is more than one side to the story and more than the surface-level reasons for what has been done.

Along with providing such a gripping tale, Edwards’ usage of the language is a treat.  Take, for instance, the following description, told from Caroline’s point of view when she suddenly meets someone from her past:

“She left him in the living room and climbed the stairs, feeling giddy, unsteady, as if she’d suddenly become aware that the planet beneath her turned in space, shifting her world no matter how hard she tried to hold it still.”

As a writer myself I’ve enjoyed many stories and books, but Edwards’ book is one of those rare things for me: a book with prose so beautiful it makes me wish I could have written it.

With strong emotions and a story that will keep you up late at night, Kim Edwards has given readers nothing but the utmost of pleasure in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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