Secrets. Every single one of us has one. Whether we like it or not it occupies a small place inside of us that keeps us alone and separated from the world as though a film exists between you and those closest to you. It’s what makes us unknowable. Kim Edwards in her debut novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explores how a secret insidiously weaves its way through the heart of a young family and how a generation later it continues to shape the relationships affected by it.
In 1964 Dr. David Henry and his wife Nora make their way through a snowstorm to the hospital as Nora’s contractions come faster and faster. Unable to make it to the hospital Dr. Henry, an orthopedic surgeon, delivers the children himself. The first child, Paul is a healthy boy, The unexpected second child, Phoebe, is mongoloid. In a split second decision that will irrevocably change the course of his and his family’s life he asks the attending nurse, Caroline Gill, who is in love with him, to take the child to a home. She takes the child to the home and horrified by what she sees she takes the child to another city and raises Phoebe as her own.
The fact that Dr. Henry sends his child to a home would not have been an uncommon decision in 1964 and ultimately he believes he is acting out of love for his wife. What he doesn’t realize is that the lie that is created grows between them until ultimtately their relationship falls apart many years later. From the moment the children are born the lie and everything that is never said between them grows into palpable silence and isolation. And still he cannot bring himself to tell her because as the years pass the nature of his crime weaves itself into the very fabric of his life and his relationships with his son and Nora. Their house is large, affluent and empty.
The parallel story follows Caroline Gill and Phoebe’s life as she struggles to find a her place as a single mother with a challenged child in a brand new city. That we see Phoebe grow up as a delightful young woman who’s mother has fought tooth and nail to allow her the opportunities of any child, makes it even more poignant because what we see here is the fabric of a rich life. One full of challenges absolutely but definitely rich.
This is, of course, not only what Nora Henry has been robbed of but what David Henry and his son are robbed of as well. The Memory’ Keepers Daughter is an auspicious beginning for this debut novelist. Kim Edwards skillfully weaves the insidious nature of this secret throughout her narrative without ever making the reader want to abandon or dislike the characters. Dr. Henry makes a bad choice but her skill as a storyteller allows us to see him as he is; a flawed man but also a good man. Again, this is a great read. It’s a tearjerker that makes you think as well as feel.