Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Amazon Link can be found here.

When I first started this book, after reading the first few pages, I did something that’s considered taboo to readers and writers alike. I flipped to the end of the book and read that first.

I didn’t do it because I hated the book. On the contrary, I liked the storyline and the writing. I think the reason why I flipped immediately to the end because I wanted to know right away if there would be a happy ending. The pacing of the book, while intense, was also incredibly slow, and for some reason, I really had no patience to see whether or not the ending will come about satisfactorily. I guess I wanted to make sure that the time I was willing to invest in this book would be worth it. To my satisfaction, the ending worked very well, so I was able to go back to the beginning and really immerse myself in it.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a story about a doctor who delivers his own twins in a snowstorm in the 1960s. The boy comes out fine and healthy, but the girl has Downer’s Syndrome. Fearing for his wife’s well-being, the doctor gives the girl to the nurse who assisted him in the birth, telling her to take the baby girl to an institution. When his wife wakes up, he proceeds to tell her that the baby died. The nurse, however, balks at the idea and winds up keeping the baby girl for herself, moving to another city to raise her.

The book follows the two families as everyone deals with the consequences of the doctor’s actions. The doctor, burdened with the terrible knowledge of what he and the nurse did, keeping the secret from his wife, who never really gets over the fact that her daughter died. Their son grows up in a silent home, watching his parents drift apart without knowing why. In contrast, the nurse raises the girl, fights for her education, discovers love, and worries that one day the doctor will change his mind and take the girl away.

There’s a lot of contemplation in this book. The wife feeling trapped and morose, the doctor distancing himself by immersing himself in photography. We get angst from the son as he gets older. When the storyline switches to the nurse, I think Edwards wants to show deep misgivings and navel-gazing in her life, too, but it doesn’t get pulled off well. Her life seems too…well, good, in contrast to the gloom in the doctor’s household. We do get a bit of anxiety as the daughter gets older and wants to move out, but it’s more of a vague sort of anxiety.

What’s noticeably absent from the story is the daughter’s point of view. Yes, she’s a character with Down’s Syndrome. How does she view the world? We only see the girl from the nurse’s point of view, and that lowers the book, in my opinion. The slow, literary style Edward uses would have been perfect to show the girl’s voice. I finished the book disappointed that she hadn’t explored that point of view.

The others? Eh…like I said, there was a lot of unhappiness in the doctor’s family, a sensitive kind of unhappiness that felt a little weird and unrealistic reading from the doctor and the son’s point of views. It worked best coming from the wife, who deals with the emptiness inside her by throwing herself into work, alcohol and affairs. The doctor was a coward for holding the secret that their daughter was alive for so long, but in some strange way, I felt sorry for him, too. To live with the secret for so long, to know you should say something, and the self-loathing for not doing so. That must’ve been very hard to deal with.

So did I like this book? Yeah…I guess I can say so. It is beautifully written. Just don’t expect to zoom through wall-to-wall action in the book. There’s a lot of staring at snow and the nape of necks. But there is a story in here. Trust me.

I give this 2 1/2 out of 5 photos, and ladies, if your husband delivers your own babies and you have twins, stay awake to make sure they’re okay. You’ll never know if one of them might disappear right on you.