Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

I read this book back in March while on vacation to Palm Desert, CA and it instantly jumped into my top 10 list. In Kim Edwards' first novel, set in 1964, a doctor is forced to deliver his own twins during a snow storm. The boy, born first, is perfectly healthy. The second birth, a girl, has Down syndrome. The doctor makes an instantaneous decision to give the child to a home and tell his wife that her daughter was stillborn. This decision ends up haunting him for the rest of his life. The author's writing is simply poetic and I was drawn in from the first sentence. I love writing that takes me out of the ordinary every day; writing that is so descriptive that I have an abundantly clear picture in my mind. But I recently spoke with a friend of mine who could barely get through the book. I was shocked! I had to hear her opinion to see where we differ. In the meantime, I asked another friend to write out her thoughts because, like me, she also thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven't read the book yet, don't read on until you do ... there are a few spoilers in the next few paragraphs. It was fun for me to get different sides of the story, but I'm still sticking with my original opinion: The Memory Keeper's Daughter is an outstanding novel.

Beth said:
I think mainly I didn’t like Norah at all. Too weak for me and too secretive. You lost the baby, get over it and move on. Talk to your girlfriends about it. Really, it took her over 20 years. I have never lost a child and certainly believe that it is a loss to be grieved, but I believe in moving on eventually. And what’s wrong with telling your husband how you really feel? And same with David. He had to live with his decision but totally closed himself off. I’m too much of a “sharer” I guess to keep all those emotions bottled up and am frustrated by those who do. And poor Paul was the one who suffered for it. I will admit that I was shocked when David died. But why didn’t he tell Norah about his life in West Virginia, about his connection with Rosemary, where he had been for three days…. And did she really believe that he was involved with Rosemary? Really, she was already 4 months pregnant. I did like Caroline, Al and of course Phoebe and was not upset that Caroline did what she did. I guess the poetic nature of the writing was too much for me also. I got tired of her imagery of the “silence growing to the edges of the room” and so many others. I think I could have imagined things just as well with fewer descriptions and adjectives.
OK, tell me your side. I haven’t talked to anyone else who has read it so I am very interested in why you liked it.

So I said:
I think the main thing to keep in mind is the era in which the book takes place. In the 1960s, depression wasn’t recognized as a “disease” one associated depression with a medical issue, so they never spoke about it; assuming the problem was theirs alone. And a woman of the 60s didn’t air her dirty laundry with girlfriends or especially not her husband. Men needed the women to be the housewife, mother and caregiver and not complain about anything. I completely see your point, but I think that is what I enjoyed so much about the book – that the characters were flawed. I like books that don’t necessarily have happy endings. And as far as David, I thought he was completely a believable character. People make the wrong decisions all the time and have to live with the consequences. I think he lived with guilt and regret until the day he died. And if his flaws weren’t part of the book, there wouldn’t have been much of a book to write! And of course I love what Caroline did and how she raised Phoebe. To me, that was the light at the end of the tunnel out of so much sadness.

The poetic writing is something that always intrigues me in a book. I read so much, that I like when a writing style really sets itself apart from other books.

And Laura said:
I agree that norah was flawed...but they all were. They were all so complex. I think that’s what made it so interesting.

David did a despicable thing. But to me, his character was so human, I couldn’t help but still root for him. And it was totally believable to me that one secret can feed upon itself like it did. Even though norah didn’t know it ...she obviously felt it... that’s what kept her from moving forward. Her air was poisoned. And I think some of the choices the characters made in the book might have been guided by the time (and the locations) the book was set in. had they been born in 1964...instead of giving birth to paul...maybe they wouldn’t have been as trapped by what society dictated.

And as for the writing, I got so wrapped up in how interesting the plot was and the relationships between the characters (or lack of)...that if the prose got too flowery...i missed it.