The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

I can’t remember who recommended this book, but I do remember the story well. I read it a few years ago now, back in high school or just after graduation. There was a Lifetime movie done, if I remember correctly, which was actually not bad, but of course the book was better.

thememorykeepersdaughterIt starts in 1964 with Dr. David Henry and his very pregnant wife, Norah, trying to get to the hospital one snowy night because Norah is about to give birth to twins. They make it to the hospital where they are greeted by a nurse, Caroline Gill, but Dr. Henry ends up having to deliver his own children. The boy, Paul is born perfectly healthy but the daughter has Down Syndrome. David’s own younger sibling also had Down Syndrome and, remembering how hard it was and the early death that it resulted in (not to mention the pain his mother went through because of the loss of her child) he decides she should be institutionalized. He tasks Caroline with taking her to the institution, and tells Norah that their daughter died. Caroline does what she’s told, but upon seeing the institution she decides to keep the baby and names her Phoebe. When she is at the store trying to get supplies for her new child, her car stops working and they become stranded. She meets a truck driver named Al and he gives the two a lift to Caroline’s house. David learns that Caroline has kept Phoebe and tells her to do what she thinks is best, but that his wife has been told the baby is dead, a funeral has been arranged and everything. Caroline leaves for Pittsburgh to raise Phoebe. A year later we watch as the weight of the lost child and David’s secret weigh on the Henry family as David and Norah become increasingly more distant from each other. In Pittsburgh Caroline finds a job as a private nurse and passes Phoebe off as her own daughter. Caroline sends letters and pictures of Phoebe to David, while he sends money to help her care for Phoebe and halfheartedly attempts to learn where the two have gone. On the romantic front, Al has found Caroline again and begins visiting her regularly as a relationship blossoms. By 1970 David and Norah continue to grow ever more distant from each other. David has become an aspiring photographer and spends most of his time in a self built darkroom. He keeps the letters and photos from Caroline there as well. When he is not in his darkroom he is throwing himself into his work. Norah has begun secretly drinking and is overprotective of Paul. Caroline and Phoebe are doing well, Phoebe growing up a happy and healthy girl despite the predictions and her mental disability. Al has now proposed twice, though Caroline has refused, worried he might not care for Phoebe as much as he cares for her. After an incident where Phoebe has an allergic reaction however, those fears are put to rest and Caroline finally agrees to marry Al. In 1977 Caroline and Al have been married five years. Paul and Phoebe are now thirteen and Paul has become a talented guitarist, dreaming of going to Julliard. His parents lead completely separate lives and disagree about what Paul should do when he’s older. David worries being a musician is not stable while Norah just wants Paul happy. When the three go off on a family vacation Norah has an affair, which David blames himself for causing him to become even more withdrawn, opting to spend more and more time in his darkroom with his pictures of Phoebe. He sends a letter to Caroline asking to meet Phoebe and if she might be allowed to get to know her twin, but Caroline never responds. Instead she cuts all communication with David, fearing he might unintentionally hurt Phoebe. By the time the twins are 25 Norah and David are divorced and Paul is in France studying music. Phoebe is in love with Robert who also has Down Syndrome. They want to get married and move into a group home but Caroline is afraid to let her go. David considers finally telling Norah the truth about Phoebe, but decides against it. Before anything else can happen, however, he dies of a heart attack. The end, of course, you have to read for yourself.

I really enjoyed this story because it’s very interesting to watch both sides unfold over the years. Watching the weight of one lie unravel one family while it builds another is a very interesting contrast. It’s made more heart wrenching to learn that, while David had the best intentions, his ultimate decision was most likely the wrong one. One of the things I liked best about this story is that none of the characters where black and white. Nobody was truly good or evil, there was even really a villain in this story. Each made their own mistakes and had to learn from them, or learn to live with them. Each choice that was made, whether you agree with it or not, is explained in a way that it makes perfect sense why this character would feel this is the best choice to make. There are many messages to take from this story and it’s one where it’s hard to say which opinion makes the most sense, but it would definitely make for some great discussion.

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1 Comment

Filed under a to z challenge, books, family, fiction, life, love, movies, thoughts

One response to “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

  1. I read this several years ago; I thought it was a good story line too!

    betty
    http://viewsfrombenches.blogspot.com/

    Like

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