The first new book I read in 2007 — as opposed to re-reads, which I’ve been doing a lot of! — was Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which caught my eye when I picked it up in the bookstore one day. (Then I went and got it from the library; I rarely take chances on buying books I haven’t read unless I’m very familiar with the author).
This novel begins with a fascinating premise, very loosely based on a real-life incident. On a winter night in 1964, a young doctor delivers his own twins. Discovering that one of them has Down Syndrome, he gives her to his nurse to secretly take to an institution — and tells his wife that their baby daughter has died. Instead of carrying out his instructions, the nurse leaves town with the baby girl and raises her as her own daughter in another city.
I don’t know how anyone could not want to read on and find out how this story turns out, particularly when it’s as well-written as this. I raced through this book in twenty-four hours, picking it up whenever I got a spare moment. The story tells about the parallel but separate lives of the two families — Dr. David Henry, his wife Nora, and their son Paul; Caroline Gill and her daughter Phoebe. As David and Nora’s marriage flounders and Nora grieves for the daughter she believes dead, Caroline struggles to give Phoebe a full life in a world that has little understanding of or tolerance for her disability.
The novel covers thirty years in the lives of these characters and never becomes dull or tiresome, though in a couple of places it stretches credibility a little. I found all four of the viewpoint characters (David, Nora, Paul and Caroline) believable and sympathetic; I didn’t always agree with their choices but always understood why they made them.
The writing is good, polished without drawing attention to itself, but there are places where Edwards over-writes and tells us things she has already shown. I got tired of being told, in so many words, that David was keeping a terrible secret that had affected everyone’s lives — we get that, it’s clear from the beginning, we don’t need to be told. Despite this tendency to over-narrate important moments, this is essentially a well-written page-turner that made me care about its characters and dealt sensitively with the Big Issues: grief and loss, Down Syndrome, and the progress of a marriage.