The synopsis of Kim Edwards’ novel is intriguing. Twins are born to parents on a winter night in 1964. One of them has Down Syndrome, so a quick choice is made by the father to ask his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away forever. The nurse cannot leave the baby at the institution the father has requested. She opts to take the child, Phoebe, to another city and raise her. I wanted to know more.
The first thing every reader of the story wants to find out is how could anyone possibly do something so terrible? Dr. David Henry delivers his babies with his wife, Norah, under sedation. In this way, he makes a split second decision to take one of her babies from her and change both of their lives forever. In that moment, he decides it is for the good of the family. Norah will be better off not having to suffer the eventual loss of a child with a weak heart as his mother did with his sickly sister. In no way does he really consider anyone’s needs but his own.
David tells Norah her daughter has died. The reader is aware that every single thing that David says in their 1 year marriage from this point on will be a lie. It becomes odd and difficult to take the fact that despite Edwards’ writing of David as feeling guilty; he is not eaten up with guilt enough to confess. He allows Norah to hold a funeral service for Phoebe and their marriage suffers from what she thinks is the loss of a child. David betrayed Norah in this major way by lying and continuing to do so, yet he feels the urge to be a decent enough guy to contact Caroline and Phoebe.
He establishes a relationship of letter writing with Caroline. Over the years she sends him polaroid’s of Phoebe and describes her progress in life. How completely unjust and cruel he is to not only know his daughter is alive, but secretly keep information about her life from her mother. At the same time, Norah’s life is slipping through her fingers and David holds the key to allowing her to let go of her sadness.
These people are living a life ruined by one decision the other doesn’t even know about. They are both suffering, yet David is the one the receiving focus and sympathy from the author. He doesn’t deserve it. It isn’t feasible to me that someone willing to be so deceiving for so long is the decent person Edwards depicts him to be. He made the decision to alter his life the day he sent his child away. After 1 year, 2, 5, 10, 15, he still had not decided to sacrifice his own pride to tell his wife the truth in order to allow her to start over.
David began taking pictures to try to capture memories. In this way, he attempted to create through the lens, a world which never existed because he altered it forever. The notion of him holding the memories of the family in his photos, most times of random people, was probably the best part of the book. Having to take pictures to stare at instead of having real experiences is not living.
David and Norah Henry lived their entire lives after the birth of their children in 1964 in a state of utter discontent. The entire novel focused on what should not have been. This was contrasted by the happiness Caroline and Phoebe shared-something that could have been David’s if he had not given away his daughter. But what was the novel’s message? I knew that David Henry shouldn’t have lied on the first few pages. Everyone knows you shouldn’t lie, especially if you are hurting other people. All in all I read way too much repetition and not enough meaningful content in the novel. The character of Henry may have been interesting an personality, but he did not make this an extraordinary book.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Official website of novel: http://www.memorykeepersdaughter.com/