"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

TITLE: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
AUTHOR: Kim Edwards

This isn't the sort of book that usually attracts me. With few exceptions, the books that are enormously popular, as this has been, and that make critics fall over themselves praising them, usually leave me a bit cold. Sure, I enjoy them well enough, but they don't usually engage me beyond the surface or stick with me long after the last page is turned, but this one, which interested me because the daughter of the title has Down's Syndrome, is one of the rare ones.

The plot is pure soap opera. It's also about secrets and how they can control your life. A doctor, upon delivering his twins during a snowstorm in 1964, sees the telltale signs of Down's Syndrome in his baby girl and gives her to his nurse to bring to an institution, hoping to spare his wife the grief of raising a child he believes is doomed to a short, unhappy life. Their son is healthy and perfect and that should be enough, so he tells her their daughter died.

The nurse, however, can't bring herself to leave the baby in such a dreadful place, and secretly in love with the doctor and longing for a child of her own, takes the baby and moves away. The consequences of the doctor's decision and the nurse's act are what move the book through the next 25 years.

The doctor, David Henry, consumed with his never reconciled grief over his own sister's death at an early age and guilt over giving up Phoebe, grows estranged from his wife, Norah, and their son, Paul, losing himself in his work and in photography as he tries to capture life in pictures, seeking something he can't quite find.

Meanwhile, Caroline, the nurse, in trying to make a life for Phoebe, becomes a confident mother fighting for the education and rights of her child, finding love with a truck driver, while fighting the fear that David will find her and demand she return Phoebe to him.

The prose gets overly poetic at times and the plot often feels forced, manipulative, as things have to happen the way they do, coincidences and all, so things will work out as they do, but that didn't matter because the characters are so richly drawn in their pain and triumphs. The emotions ring true, even if I would've liked something a bit different at the end,which I don't want to mention because it will give too much away.

So, while I'm late to reading this book, if there are any of you out there who hasn't read it, I recommend it. And keep a tissue handy.