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Memory Keeper's Daughter (Review)

wonderfully-written-4

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Kim Edwards, 2005
432 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November 2006

Dark secrets that lie deep in the heart always find their way to the surface. That's the premise of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, a painful but beautiful book about how lies corrode the human soul.

Two stories are told in tandem. The first is the story of Dr. David Henry who, unbeknownst to his wife, gives away their second twin, a baby girl with Down syndrome.

She was stillborn, he tells his wife, a lie he will live with for the rest of his life. The second story is that of Carolyn Gill, the nurse who takes the infant and raises her in another city.

The power of the book lies in the author's compassionate treatment of her characters. Heinous as the father's decision is, we are sympathetic with his motivations if not his actions. A confession: when first reading the novel, I wanted to put it down, certain the storyline would develop along the lines of Fatal Attraction: moving from bad to worse...to just plain awful. Not so. As the years pass, the characters find a sort of equilibrium within themselves and with each other.

The title comes from the name of a camera, which starts David off on his hobby as a serious amateur photographer. The camera becomes a central metaphor of the novel: for one thing, it represents Henry's attempt to capture reality and fix it in time, on a piece of paper, as if somehow he could have fixed the moment of his daughter's birth and chosen differently. (The symbolic use of photography in this work reminds me of Sue Miller's fine 1990 novel, Family Pictures.)

The book's structure, unfortunately, feels choppy and contrived: chapters are divided and labeled by years with a fair amount of jumping back and forth between the lives of the Henry family and Caroline Gill. Nonetheless, Edwards' writing more than makes up for any structural problems: she writes with a fluid, assured prose and tells an engaging story. Many friends have told me this is one of their favorite books.

See our Reading Guide for The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

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