The Memory Keeper's Daughter illustrates
the power of an individual and split-second decision that has
an enormous impact on the lives of the protagonists. In the winter
of 1964, Dr. David Henry and his wife Norah are expecting their
first child together, but when she goes into labor during a snowstorm,
the doctor is forced to deliver the baby with his nurse, Caroline
Gill, attending. After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, Norah
continues to labor and passes out under the administration of
gas. A twin baby girl arrives, but the doctor recognizes the
early signs of Down's Syndrome. Without consulting his wife,
Dr. Henry asks Nurse Gill to take the baby to an institution
where he believes his daughter will be better cared for. When
his wife awakes, he tells her that they have had twins but cannot
bring himself to tell her that he has sent their daughter away.
So, instead, he says, "Oh, my love . . . I am sorry. Our
little daughter died as she was born (20)."
Once these words are uttered, they cannot be
taken back. Edwards carefully traces the results over the next
twenty-five years for Dr. Henry, Norah, Caroline Gill, and the
twins Paul and Phoebe. The reader hopes for resolution while
observing the inevitable fall-out of Dr. Henrys hasty choice.
While his motives are pure, he can never face his wife with honesty,
having denied her the love of their child.
Edwards also explores the treatment of children
with Down Syndrome during this time period in America. Is Dr.
Henry correct in assuming that Phoebe can never lead a normal
life? Should Phoebe enjoy the benefits of public school due to
the hard-fought mainstreaming battle? Are we made stronger and
more compassionate as human beings when we encounter difference
and embrace it?
The writer alternates the narrative among the
protagonists, and I sometimes found myself skipping head to the
next section in the book that dealt with a particular storyline
because each character was so compelling. The complexity of their
choices provides vivid scenes from lives full of palpable what
ifs a mesmerizing read.