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The Memory Keeper's Daughter: A Novel
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246 of 267 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 14, 2007
The initial premise of the book is terrific. We're in the '60s and a doctor finds himself in a situation on a snowy night in which he must deliver his own child, with the help of his nurse Caroline (who has a secret crush on him). The first child, Paul, is healthy, but the second, a girl, is born with Down's Syndrome. The doctor, David, is convinced his wife Norah will not be able to "handle" the trauma of having such a child, so he decides, in an instant, to hand the poor girl to Caroline and asks her to take it to a home for such children and leave it there, never to mention the girl again. He tells his wife that the daughter has died. Caroline runs to the home,finds it to be a hugely disturbing place, and then looking into the face of this new baby, decides she can love the girl and provide her with a life. She runs off with the baby, ready to start a new and uncertain life.

These initial scenes are fairly well done, and though the decision David makes is abhorrent today...it is somewhat tempered by the fact that in the '60s, we as a society weren't quite so compassionate or understanding of folks with Downs. His logic about sparing his wife is questionable, however, and Edwards fairly effectively shows that the gulf between David's initial guilt and wariness about being caught and Norah's grief at losing a child drives the couple further apart. Norah is not allowed to grieve in the way she wants...for example, she isn't allowed to see the body of her lost daughter...for obvious reasons.

Anyway, after this the book falls apart. Author Kim Edwards, it becomes clear, hasn't learned the lesson of "showing us" how people are feeling and thinking, but telling us. We are told over and over that David's secret has blanketed his family, that it's driven him apart from his wife and son. We never really understand specifically how. Does David just act guilty all the time? Does Norah never get over her depression? Is she unable to show love to her son because she wants her daughter? I found the book to be almost completely unconvincing psychologically.

Also, every character in the book (possibly excepting the daughter Phoebe) is hugely UNLIKEABLE and UNSYMPATHETIC. David is simply a pompous jerk. Her makes this huge decision and then can't understand how his lie might effect other people. He just wants his wife to "get over it." Problem is, we see right from the beginning of the book, before the lie even happens, that this is not a happy couple and not one that should ever have married. Norah, the wife, marries David apparently without love for him, and then resents him for being very successful and providing for her and her son the kind of life she married him to get. We also learn a great deal about David's childhood, and none of that rings very true either...the David we see as an adult isn't convincingly the man the young David would have grown up to be.

The son,Paul, is shown as a typical sullen teenager who is not understood by his overbearing father. He escapes to playing guitar, and what do you know...he's practically a genius at that instrument. He talks about music in a way that no real person ever would...only in a way that writer's who can't show us how a person feels but must have them "tell" us.

On the other side of the story, we have the nurse Caroline. She appears to be somewhat heroic, because she does risk a lot to provide a life for Phoebe. Yet we never see the day to day struggles of dealing with a child with Down's Syndrome. Some brief early scenes are all we get...but the structure of the story skips all the day to day details and we see only the "end result,"...which doesn't seem to have been all that difficult...except that the author "tells" us that it was. While Caroline isn't unsympathetic she's just kind of bland and passive.

At one point in the later part of the book, David returns to his old hometown and meets an unusual character. I don't want to spoil it...but let's just say that this person's actions are totally silly at first, and then later this person is clearly meant to cause a seismic shift in the dynamics of David's family...instead we just kind of scratch our heads and wonder at the strangeness of everyone's behavior. I wish I could tell you more...but if you manage to slog your way this far into the book, you should at least have some surprises left.

It took me FOREVER to get through this poorly written, overwraught book. I kept going because it was SUCH a bestseller and so many people liked it. I guess I just totally missed it. I realize I'm asking to get huge amounts of "unhelpful" ratings, but I feel there must be other lone voices out there like me...who just found the book deeply unsatisfactory.

The only reason it gets two stars instead of one is that the initial premise IS original and was done well enough to make me buy the darn book in the first place and continue reading it in the hopes that the author's imagination would once again provide redemption. No such luck.
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592 of 663 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2005
I don't read a lot of fiction and I most especially do not read romances. I'm not sure how this book is categorized but it is the most compulsively readable, emotional, and memorable book I've read since "Gone With the Wind" over 40 years ago. This is an epic story of a doctor who, in an emotional moment and with all his medical knowledge telling him to protect those he loves, makes a decision that affects him and everyone around him forever. On a blizzardly night in 1964, David Henry helps his wife give birth to twins, one a perfect boy and the other a girl with Downs Syndrome. At that time, imperfect children were "put away" in institutions where they died young and families and friends spoke of them in shame-filled whispers, if at all. David grew up with a very sickly sister whose death at age 12 ended all meaningful life for his parents. With all good intentions of sparing his wife and new son the pain he and his parents endured, he made a fateful decision and told his wife the little girl had died at birth. It was a decision that, once made, could not be redeemed nor remedied. Time inexorably moves away from that moment but, instead of becoming distant, it grows tentacles that seize their beings and influence everything for the next three decades. We learn a photograph can capture a moment but it cannot tell you what encompasses it, what came before and after. It cannot effect change, it cannot correct. One moment, one choice, and an ever-widening circle of consequences, many roads taken and many not.

The writing in The Memory Keeper's Daughter is so well-articulated, the story itself is so engrossing and so different from any I have read before, that hard as I tried to remain disaffected, about 100 pages before the end I felt actual pain knowing there was a last page. As I came to know every nuance of these characters, I wanted to reach into the pages and tell them everything, something, anything, to stop time, to take a different road and change the past, then go on again. Honestly, I have never felt quite this way about a book before.
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55 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2007
Read the one and two star reviews and then put this book right back on the shelf. The premise is intriguing, but it's lit-lite, make no mistake, and there's way too much going on and going nowhere in this tragically trite writing exercise that will surely have you skimming. If you can wade through all the smarmy similes (you will truly not be able to keep track of what all is like something else) and the abundant adjectives (does every last thing in the world really need one or two qualifiers?), you are left with the shallowest of characters whose references to their pasts pop up in the most unlikely and inappropriate places (like when Norah finally learns of her daughter's existence and then all of a sudden is "remembering, for some reason, the time she had fallen through an unmarked grate in Spain." What??) from an author who seemed to not be able to help but put every last thought she had into this one book. Edwards' phrasing is so cliched, repetitive and self-aware that it is often painful: starfish hands, shocks of hair, beams of moonlight, so much sunlight shining and spilling and falling and piercing everywhere all the time, too often in "motes," and silverfish-this silver-fish that. So contrived, it is almost comical! She writes like someone who is borrowing from too many and has not found her own voice--well, we can hope, anyway. I can see why lit-lite caliber colleague, Picoult, endorsed the book, but poor Ms. Kidd. I guess Penguin made her do it.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2006
I seriously can't understand how this book got such glowing reviews and ended up a best seller. I purchased the paperback at an airport based on the description on the back cover and front-cover praise from Sue Monk Kidd. I feel I have been deceived.

If this had been a book written with 6th-10th-graders in mind, I might understand the appeal, but for adults, there very little new here and what little there was was diminished by unrelenting repetition to the point where it felt as though it were being shoved down my throat. As if the author wanted to scream at me, "Get it?! Do you GET IT?! Let me say it one more time so I AM CERTAIN THAT YOU GET IT!!!"

Don't even get me started on the unnecessary descriptive detail that added nothing but words to the pages while characters languished undeveloped--two-dimensional, cliché, pop-psychology placeholders dutifully fulfilling their assigned roles.

Light switches that "give in to touch", the colors of the women's clothing (for all the allusions to feminism in this book, I don't recall the same amount of attention paid to the male characters' clothing), the way sunlight dances...a little of that goes a long way. It reminds me of 9th grade English teachers who remind students to include "lots of the rich description" in their stories--as if the fact that Phoebe's dress was "silvery green" and she carried daffodils "loosely in her right hand" mattered one whit. I want to know what Pheobe thinks, how she feels, not what color her dress is or what kind of flowers she's carrying or in what hand and how. But apparently, beyond her desire to not be whisked off somewhere with strangers and her distaste for escargot, Pheobe has very few thoughts, feelings or opinions. She may have Downs', but surely her head is more than an empty cookie jar.

This book could have been so much more than it was. After the first half, I knew it wasn't going to get better, and it didn't. It actually got worse. But like a train wreck, I couldn't stop looking.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2007
I really wanted to love this book....after all, its a National Bestseller, on multiple critic's "must-read" list, on my Amazon recommendations list every time I check, and I have had more than a few people recommend it to me. Also, after reading the first thirty pages or so, I was riveted - such a unique and interesting plot....I though the rest of the book would be sensational. However, not only was I wrong and beyond disappointed, but I just can't understand the hype surrounding this book!

Once the plot is set-up within the first thirty pages or so, the book utterly failed to deliver and just tanked. The writing is boring, trite and the entire middle of the book is way too repetitive. Each paragraph I read felt like I had read it before...saying the same thing ten different times/ways does not make a book interesting. In fact, I had a hard time forcing myself to keep reading, but kept thinking about the fact that so many people liked this book so figured maybe the ending would somehow redeem it. It didn't. The book went downhill fast and never recovered, not even at the end. I DO NOT recommend this book at all!
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76 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2005
I found THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER to be disappointing for me. I chose it for the story which sounded wonderful, but I found the writing tedious. The story didn't move for me. It seemed to be in a midst of a fog with far too many details about things that didn't matter and not enough about things that did interest me. After awhile, I didn't care if I finished it or not and started other books, which I completed, before returning to this one. I wished I'd checked it out at the library rather than spent money on it, quite honestly.
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57 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
I don't get the excitement over this book. I kept expecting something to happen, waited patiently and then realized I was done with the darned book. And nothing much had happened.

I don't get the selfish, spoiled son. I can't buy that the loss of her child made Norah a drunk adultress. Didn't know David Henry well enough to digest the difference between what he was before and what he was after he gave his baby away.

And the way the big secret was revealed after all those years, for no good reason, was a let-down. Surely there was a more heart-wrenching devastating way for Norah to learn of her daughter's survival.

I guess I expected the Henry family to "accidentally" meet up with the long-lost daughter instead of Caroline arriving for coffee and spilling the beans.

Duller than dirt with many missed opportunities.
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on May 2, 2007
Unlike some other reviewers, I fould the start of the book to be absolutely dreadful. It seemed as though the author was trying too hard to SOUND like some great writer. But once I moved past the disappointing and boring beginning, I found I couldn't put the book down. On the whole, I recommend this book to library patrons looking for a good fiction read, but I always feel the need to advise them to persevere and trudge through the first chapter with hope for the rest of the book.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2006
My book club strikes again with this inane, predictable and hard to complete selection. I think Kim Edwards found the novel difficult to finish writing, because the ending was even more bland and poorly developed than the rest of the book.

The premise of the novel is interesting enough, which is why I found it mildly engaging. However, I found myself hating all the characters in the book (save Phoebe). The metaphors the author uses are for the most part cheap, and are further deflated by their constant repetition. How many starfish metaphors can she make in the course of just a few paragraphs? Then there was the overuse of several phrases..."silverfish" is just one that comes to mind. Still, this was Kim Edward's freshman novel, so I can excuse some of the overly-elaborated and amateur metaphors; hence the two star rating.

I had a difficult time trudging through this book to reach the end. The middle section could have been half as long and still sufficed. The characters were all, without exception, poorly developed and painfully uninteresting. This doesn't make the invisible plot any more tolerable. I would say that if you really wanted to feel like you wasted your time reading something, then choose this book. There is certainly nothing to be gained by reading it.
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65 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2006
The one star is for the cover artwork and title. I am struggling through this book. Why I keep on reading, I don't know. (I have heard, "that which doesn't kill you, makes you strong") It just seems wrong not to finish a book. I admit I bought it for the cover and the synopsis of the story thinking it would be interesting. But it is just plain boring, lacking any type of character development that would make me care at all about any of them.

I keep coming to what seem like pivotal moments in the story and wonder why I should care, knowing as little as I do about the people and their significance to one another. One example is when Doro leaves her home to Caroline and departs with her new husband. It FELT like such a climax yet I couldn't figure out how I got there. (I thought maybe I had bookmarked the wrong page and missed the parts that developed the friendship between Caroline and Doro.) Likewise, when I read about Paul's partying in the photo studio, I thought, "oh boy, here we go, this is going to get real now!" considering how kooky his dad is about his photography. But nope, naughty Paul just has to reorganize everything. Everything just keeps falling flat. It does kind of feel like a made-for-tv movie with lots of spots for commercial breaks...

MUST I finish it? Is it okay to just donate it to the library, unfisnished?
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