A rare Kentucky snowstorm in early 1964 strands Dr. David Henry and his wife Norah at his clinic, where he delivers his twins with the sole assistance of a devoted nurse. His son Paul is born strong and healthy, but an unexpected daughter Phoebe follows and he quickly recognizes the signs of Down’s Syndrome. Presuming she will never be accepted in society and will likely suffer numerous health complications, the doctor decided to “spare his wife the pain” and tell her her daughter died.
Dr. Henry sends Caroline, the nurse, to deliver the child to an institution, changing all their lives forever — and so begins The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Caroline cannot leave the child behind, so runs away to raise her as her own daughter. David never shakes the guilt of his lie, withdraws from his marriage and never fully enjoys his son as he should. Norah struggles to deal with her daughter’s death and her husband’s emotional distance.
While certainly an interesting read, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. It quickly set up as a morality tale. David’s poor decision meant he and everyone connected to him would suffer forever. Caroline’s selfless choice blessed her with luck: finding the perfect job, inheriting a house and stumbling into a loving and devoted husband. I’ve never been a fan of morality tales. Life is not that clear-cut.
Yes, what the doctor did was deplorable. I don’t have trouble believing that such a decision would haunt him forever. I do find it a stretch that it would ruin the lives of everyone around him. So many times I put the book down in frustration wishing the characters would just move on and get out of their own way. Or in Caroline’s case, just once if something didn’t work out sunshine-y. (The baby was not hers. Yes, there was the convenient incomplete birth certificate, but how did no one ever question this!)
That said, the story and characters are interesting and the premise is unique. In fact, if the novel had ended a few chapters earlier I might have liked it much more. I simply grew tired of the same lesson repeated over and over.
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (July 1 2006)