The Memory Keeper's Daughter
It is 1964 when Nora Henry goes into labor on a cold blizzarding Lexington, Kentucky wife night. Her husband David, an orthopedic doctor, can't get to the hospital but makes it to his office. The office nurse, Caroline Gill, made it in, but the obstetrician got stuck in the snow storm. David delivered his son Paul with no problem.
But he then delivers the unexpected. The little girl obviously has Down's Syndrome. David remembers all the health problems Down's babies and children have, including heart problems. He remembers from medical school that those children rarely stay alive to grow up. He knows what it is like to live in a family with a sickly, dying child and doesn't want to do that to Nora. He asks Caroline to take the newborn baby to a nearby clinic. He tells Nora that the little girl died.
When Caroline sees the clinic conditions, she leaves again with the newborn. Instead, she takes the baby and disappears from Lexington, ending up in Pittsburgh. There she raises Phoebe as her own daughter. Eventually she sends David Henry letters so he knows his daughter is protected and fine, but she hides her own location from him.
The two children grow up in very different situations. The Henry household is affluent but always overshadowed by the (presumed) death of Phoebe. Nora never totally lets go of her daughter. David can't let go of the guilt or the secret of Phoebe's existence. The Gill household is a mother with a physically healthy, retarded daughter. Caroline finds a job as a live in caretaker of a man with Alzheimer's. Eventually a special man makes himself part of her and Phoebe's life. She becomes an outspoken advocate for equal education for handicapped children.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is one of those novels that doesn't let you go. It flips back and forth between the two families, jumping over years to another point in time. David becomes a photographer, another way to distance himself from people. Nora goes against conventions of the times and returns to a job, then starts her own successful business. Paul is outwardly a golden child but he feels all the undercurrents in the family. He and David are never able to get close.
Caroline had been older and alone. She had cared for ill parents, then a nurse in the doctors' practice, with no close ties. Without the circumstances she would have remained a background, shadowy person all her life. Phoebe and their new life in Pittsburgh brings Caroline out of her shell to discover her own potential and happiness.
Kim Edwards has brought these two stories together well. The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a quiet, poignant novel. It covers 25 years in their lives. It's a bit slow at times and at other times skips too much time, yet it keeps a tug on the reader. No wonder it stayed on the best seller's list for so long.
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