He had given their daughter away. This secret stood in the middle of their family; it shaped their lives together. – From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 193-
Kim Edwards has crafted a novel which explores the impact of tightly held family secrets. In 1964, Dr. David Henry delivers his twins in the middle of a late spring blizzard. One child is perfect. The other has Down’s Syndrome. In a life altering moment, David makes the decision to spare his wife the grief of a mentally retarded daughter and asks the nurse, Caroline, to take the child away to an institution. Instead, Caroline chooses to take tiny Phoebe and raise her as her own.
From this point forward, the story never slows down. Edwards weaves words on the page like an artist. She makes the reader care deeply about the characters. Told from alternating points of view, the novel spans more than 25 years, and traces the lives of Norah Henry, Dr. David Henry, their son (Paul), Caroline and Phoebe. It is at turns wrenching and hopeful. Edwards has a poetic style and a firm grasp of setting. She allows the reader inside the hearts of her characters, especially Dr. Henry who turns to photography as a way of trying to freeze a moment in time:
“Photography is all about secrets,” David said, after a few minutes, lifting the photo with a pair of tongs and slipping it into the fixer. “The secrets we all have and will never tell.”
-From The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, page 201-
Edwards is perhaps her best when she shows us Phoebe. For most of the characters, the past is a gripping place – unable to be changed and filled with regrets. But with Phoebe we are grounded in the present. Phoebe is the character who brings an immediacy to the novel. Her innocence, her joy with the wonder of her world, her ability to simply accept others and move forward without regretting the past. In shaping Phoebe, Edwards has brought hope to her story.