Friday, June 29, 2018

Kim Edwards - The Memory Keeper's Daughter

On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. 
So begins this story that unfolds over a quarter of a century - in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night. Norah Henry, who knows only that her daughter died at birth, remains inconsolable; her grief weighs heavily on their marriage. And Paul, their son, raises himself as best he can, in a house grown cold with mourning. Meanwhile, Phoebe, the lost daughter, grows from a sunny child to a vibrant young woman whose mother loves her as fiercely as if she were her own.

Comment: I was given this book as a Christmas gift but it's practically July and only now did I get it to read. Although this is a high rated book on GR, the average isn't that amazing so I guess this put me off a bit about starting it. Still, I read all my planned books for the month and this is another one I just started impulsively, hoping to be proven wrong on letting it wait.

In this book we meet doctor David Henry, a man who still mourns the death of his sister and how that affected his family life, when he is about to become a father. During the delivery, his wife has twins but while the firstborn boy is as healthy as expected, the girl being born after has Down Syndrome. Since the action starts in 1964, there was still a lot of prejudice and along with David's fears of seeing his daughter wasting until dying and allowing his family to suffer, he decides on his own that the girl will be sent to an institution. For this he asks a nurse who was assisting the birth to do that before his wife realized what was happening, telling her later the baby girl died.
Throughout the years, the lives of all the characters involved will be affected by this action of David. Or won't they?

Well, the question I wrote above is actually how I'd summarize what we are supposed to read between the lines about this story. Does this story really have a different meaning if we could imagine David's actions should have been different? As one could imagine, such an one sided decision shouldn't have been done but once it did, how does it affect everything else?
In my opinion, if this is the aim of the story, to let us make our own minds about the right choice, then the author shouldn't have spent most of the more than 400 pages (of my edition) of this story with the character's behavior and thoughts and more about the actions to reunite the child who was given with the others.

The story can be divided into years, being the first 1964 and then the plot moves along until 1989 when the book ends. In each year we have scenes about the characters, where they are in life and how their minds and emotions are too. We have a third person narrator but the story flows from character to character, so we have David's thoughts, Norah's (his wife), Paul's (the twin boy) and Caroline's (the nurse who took the girl-Phoebe).
If on one hand this is quite interesting because it allows us to understajd where everyone is at, it also gives us glimpses of their motivations and actions.
I guess that, overall, I found this to be an easy way to move along but quite irritating at times. You see, for me, despite how understandable their thoughts and feelings, I just didn't like being in any of their heads. Except, maybe, Caroline's.

All characters had flaws, and of course we are supposed to see how that made them human because everyone makes mistakes but we, the reader, should also find compassion towards what happens to these people, mistakes notwithstanding.
Paul and David were annoying because they could have had a great relationship and the reasons why they didn't don't seem valid, considering Paul's happy childhood.
Then Paul changes and the main reason has something to do with a situation regarding his mother. Why he felt like he should punish his father, I don't know (David's secret action was not known yet).
This means, to me, the worst character was Norah. I can see why thinking her child was dead could have been so devastating. Were she suffering, I would have understood. Were she to react on it with weird behaviors too. But since we have access to her thoughts, we can see how she rationalizes her actions and that makes her decision, when Paul changes into a moody teenager, stupid, pointless, annoying to no end.

Therefore, while reading, most of my antagonism went towards Norah and not David, although his impulsive decision was the reason behind all problems.
Unfortunately for me, the story was mostly spent in analysing the characters' lives through the impact of David's decision. I feel a lot of growth was lot in this tactic, rather than making the story more about the characters knowing about it sooner and how they would respond to the fact the twin girl has Down syndrome and that would affect them all.
The end of the book was bittersweet and under done, I'd say. I just can't find true emotion about this book and some plot choices felt really missed chances to turn this into something more spectacular.

All in all, entertaining, but certainly not as amazing as it could have been.
Grade: 6/10

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