September 26, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

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When I first picked up The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a novel by Kim Edwards, it was due to a tempting (but overpriced) Border’s “Buy Two Get One Free” deal. With all of the titles bound as mass-paperbacks and marked as bestsellers, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. As I continue to do at least once a month, I picked up three new books to add to the collection of unread works cluttering my dorm room.
To be honest, it was only the cover of the Edward’s novel that saved it from a six month imprisonment smashed amongst several other Borders buys on my bookshelf. We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” but, at least for myself, old habits generally die hard (or don’t die at all). Sporting a picture of a white, luminescent Catholic christening gown against a dark night sky, the cover promised for an eerie or, at the very least, an interesting read.
Hoping for a pleasant break from the doldrums of Cornell academia, I began the novel blindly, forbidding myself to read the publisher’s written-to-sell summary. Expecting to find action or murder, however, I instead stumbled upon intrigue and excitement of a different genre. I was given access to the lives of a family living in small town Kansas, burdened not only by the expected pains of its aging characters, but also haunted by a secret with life-altering impact.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter focuses on Dr. Henry, a man struggling to provide for and protect his family. When a snowstorm hits (think Cornell, Valentine’s Day, 2007) and he is unable to transport his pregnant wife to the hospital, he suits up, and delivers the twin babies himself. His elation following the two births, however, quickly fades upon recognizing the then subtle (but in later years somewhat dramatic) physical attributes of Down Syndrome present in his new daughter. With his wife unconscious (and under the influence of various drugs), he makes a decision that he knows will affect the futures of his entire family. Secretly, he sends the baby girl to be raised in an institution, later telling his wife that her daughter died in childbirth. The story goes on to deal with the ongoing repercussions of Dr. Henry’s decision, focusing on the affects it has on those characters both in and outside of his direct family.
As someone with very little exposure to the lifestyles of those with Down Syndrome, I found the text shocking but also enlightening. Just as Dr. Henry found himself caught in a moral dilemma, I too was forced to question my own ethics. Although admittedly uninformed, I wondered what actions I would have taken if in the same situation. I felt vulnerable and confused; I had connected with the book.
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is an emotionally infused read. It speaks not only on life’s unavoidable ethic decisions, but also stresses the interconnected web that is shaped, the threads sometimes bending and breaking, between us all.