The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Title:  The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Author:  Kim Edwards

Paperback:  401 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Penguin Books

ISBN:  0143037145

The head crowned.  In three more pushes it emerged, and then the body slid into his waiting hands and the baby cried out, its blue skin pinking up.

It was a boy, red-faced and dark-haired, his eyes alert, suspicious of the lights and the cold bright slap of air.  The doctor tied the umbilical cord and cut it.  My son, he allowed himself to think.  My son.

“Where is the baby?” his wife asked, opening her eyes and pushing hair away from her flushed face.  “Is everything all right?”

“It’s a boy,” the doctor said, smiling down at her.  “We have a son.  You’ll see him as soon as he’s clean.  He’s absolutely perfect.”

His wife’s face, soft with relief and exhaustion, suddenly tightened with another contraction… he understood what was happening… “Nurse?” the doctor said, “I need you here.  Right now.”

…”Twins?” the nurse asked.

…This baby was smaller and came easily… “It’s a girl,” he said, and cradled her like a football… The blue eyes were cloudy, the hair jet black, but he barely noticed all of this.  What he was looking at were the unmistakable features, the eyes turned up as if with laughter, the epcantha fold across the lids, the flattened nose… A mongoloid.

-The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, pages 15-16

When Norah Henry goes into labor during a blizzard (I know, very Lifetime Movie, right?), Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver their children himself.  There is only one other person present at the delivery, the office nurse, Caroline Gill.  When David realizes that his newborn daughter has Down’s Syndrome, he passes her to Caroline with the directions to a “home for the feeble-minded,” and the name of the person to talk to there.  His intentions are to tell his wife, who is passed out from the anaesthetic gas, about their daughter’s condition when she comes to, however, when the moment arrives, he lies to her and tells her the girl is dead and her body sent to be buried in the family cemetery on his partner’s farm.  In her grief, Norah plans and announces a memorial for the lost child, “Phoebe,” and informs David of all this after it’s been made public, sticking him fast to the story he told her of the baby’s death.

Caroline, after seeing the deplorable conditions of the place David has sent his daughter to be dumped off and after being informed that the person to whom she was to speak no longer works there, decides to keep Phoebe.  Caroline, now in her early 30s, has spent her whole life waiting for her life to begin, waiting to be someone and to make a difference, she takes Phoebe and moves to Pittsburgh to raise her as her own.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is the unfolding of the outcome of David’s decision.  It shows how this one secret, and really, much more that David has kept all his life, erects a wall between him and his family.  In his attempt to spare his wife and son the pain of having a daughter and sister who’s condition he believes will be a burden on them their entire life, he has only substituted one pain for another.  By the time he realizes his lie has caused more heartache than the truth ever could, his family has become individuals, islands unto themselves, lonely and feeling like they could never be good enough for the rest.

Because this book does a great job at recreating the sentiments of the time period toward special needs children, there are times when what’s being said is offensive.  My two older girls have special needs, and when the nurse in the Pittsburgh hospital asks Caroline if she really wants her to save Phoebe’s life, it rankled me as much as it did Caroline.  The book doesn’t crank out a happily ever after scenario, nor does it become an “Oh my God, yet another tragedy” soap opera, instead it presents a plausible, heart-felt outcome.

Things to keep in mind if you plan to read this book:  It is a real look at what life is like raising a child with special needs, and raising that child into adulthood.  It is a lifetime of events, and therefore can seem long, but it doesn’t drag.  Also, it does have heavy and sad moments, the character’s don’t do “the right thing” and there are no heroes… except maybe Paul and Phoebe, and even then maybe just Phoebe.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards can help the reader have more compassion for caretakers of special needs children, as well as having a moral that the truth is always the better way to go, that the best of intentions is often the surest and straightest path to Hell.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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P.S.  Do NOT watch the Lifetime movie of this.  It is officially the WORST book to movie EVER! EVER EVER EVER EVER EVERI give that POS movie NEGATIVE infinity out of 5 stars.  It made the characters appear flat and shallow, it changed parts of the story that didn’t need changed and it was just plain crap.  Anyone who says they didn’t like the book because the characters were shallow and selfish, I have to wonder if they really read the book or watched the movie.

BTT ~ Pop! Goes Dean Koontz

Which is worse?

Finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or

Reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?

.

Yesterday one of my facebook friends sent me an invite to take one of those quizzes to see how much alike we were.  It was the kind where you have 10 phrases to put in order, most to least, starting with what I hated the most.  “Disappoint me” was top of the chart, even above “lie to me”, “ignore me” or “talk behind my back”.

At least with reading a book I love, then hating everything else by that author, I had that book one that I  loved.  It’s easier to take the rest of his or her writing, and I can just shrug it all off as a fluke.  As much as I love The Book Thief, I’m slightly worried that nothing else by Markus Zusak will be any good.  However, if I should happen to give another of his books a try and hate it, It will not sully my memory of The Book Thief.

On the other hand, if I pick up a book by an author I love, and hate it, there’s a sense that the author has failed me personally.  We have a relationship, of sorts, and he or she did not hold up his end of the bargain.  He or she has FAILED ME, and with every book I read thereafter I will hold this little uncertainty, a distrust, and wonder if he or she is going to screw me over again.

The worst of all, though, is that first experience reading an author and loving the whole book, every word is perfectly placed, his pace perfect, his story compelling, and you sit there and think “How on EARTH have I lived my life without reading this author!”  Then you get to the last three or four chapters, the last 10-15 pages, and he totally and completely bottoms out in epic-sized proportions.  And now, because of this, every book you touch by him you are leery to pick up, no matter how fascinating, intriguing or compelling the story line, because you wonder if he’s going to “screw you over” again.  AND he’s one of your bookfriend’s favorite authors, so she’s always sharing whatever one of his 147 just-out-in-paperback-because-he-has-a-new-release-ever-five-minutes-book she has just finished, and you look at every single one she thrusts at you to read, with the proclamation, “This is his best book yet!”, as if it were an adorable puppy you just watched get bitten by a foaming-at-the-mouth, crazy rabid squirrel and you know it’s only a matter of time until the big-eyed, heart-tugging pup turns on you.  But you finally relent and take her offering, however, no matter how good the writing is, you say to yourself, “Oh, sure it’s good now, but is he going to screw me over in the last few chapters like the other one?”  So you can’t enjoy it AT ALL because every page comes with that feeling you have as you turn the Jack-in-the-box crank as “the monkey though ’twas all in fun….” plunks out.  EVERY page you ever read by him again is saturated with the aftertaste of that massive  let down.

Dean Koontz, I’m talking to you. 

If you’d like to play along, or read other Booking Through Thursday answers, click the button above :-)

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After reading The Darkest Evening of the Year and loving it, loving it, loving it… then having it all turn to crap in the last three or four chapters, I feel like Buddy in this vid clip while reading From the Corner of His Eye.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Title:  Empire Falls

Author:  Richard Russo

Paperback:  483 pages

Date Published:  2001

PublisherVitage Books (a div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780375726408

MiscellaneousEmpire Falls won the 2002 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction

 

“Has it ever occurred to you that life is a river, dear boy?”  Mrs. Whiting said when Miles sat down opposite her in the gazebo.  In asking this question the old woman managed to convey, as with all such queries, that she was not anticipating a response that would enlighten her.  Whereas some people’s attitude suggested that perhaps they knew something you didn’t, Mrs. Whiting’s implied that she knew  everything  you didn’t.  She alone had been paying attention, so it was her duty to bring you at least partially up to speed.

-Empire Falls by Richard Russo, page 161

Empire Falls by Richard Russois the multi-faceted and complex tale of the Central Maine town of Empire Falls. Woven together like a rich tapestry, it tells of the cross-generational intersections of the lives of its denizens, with the life of Miles Roby the central focus.

Miles has spent most of his life going with the flow. A devout Catholic, he’s predisposed to motivation-by-guilt and a nagging sensation that everything bad that’s ever happened can somehow, if one looked hard enough, back to him and is his fault. His desire to always do the right thing gives him the unintended air of moral superiority that can be repellent, and the fact that he attended 3 1/2 years of college before returning to Empire Falls when his mother was on her death bed gives him an added perception of intellectual superiority. All of this is not a truth about Miles, only what others sometime perceive about him.

Opposite Miles are Jimmy Minty and Mrs. Whiting. Jimmy Minty, Mr. Empire Falls as he referred to himself, is a police officer and possibly the next Chief of Police. Whereas Miles can seem morally and intellectually superior to the town even though it’s everything he is NOT, Minty is the “everyman”. People may not like him, but at least he’s one of them and knows it. What the town does NOT know is that this “everyman” has keys to each and every lock in Dexter County, a houseful of stolen electronics and no tangible income to explain his ownership of a shiny, new, red Camaro.

Minty’s off-the-book work as Mrs. Whiting’s muscle is, of course, how he affords the car. Think of a Bedford Falls in which George Baily just went along, obligingly, with what Old Man Potter said, and you’d have Empire Falls. Mrs. Whiting is Russo’s answer to Mr. Potter. Incapable of feeling love herself, she has an incredible knack of uncovering that affliction in others and does her best to eradicate it. “Power and Control” are the words by which she lives, and tells Miles that people often confuse will with power, and that the “power” they perceive the lucky few as having is simply that they know what they want in life and go after it.

 

“You appear to have been visited by some sort of revelation, dear boy,” Mrs. Whiting observed. “Here’s my suggestion, though. Why not think things over? Passionate decisions are seldom very sound.”

“When did you ever feel passion?”

“Well, it’s true I’m seldom swept away like those with more romantic temperaments,” she conceded. “But we are what we are, and what can’t be cured must be endured.”

“What can’t be cured mus be avenged,” Miles said. “Isn’t that what you mean?”

She smiled appreciatively. “Payback is how we endure, dear boy…”

-Empire Falls by Richard Russo, pages 434-435

 

Another of Miles nemeses, Timmy the Cat, is one of my favorite characters in this book.  Timmy, found and adopted by Mrs. Whiting’s daughter Cindy, had, as a small kitten, been placed in a sack with her litter-mates and tossed into the Knox, the river that runs through Empire Falls.  She was the lone survivor and never right in the head ever after.  Described by Miles in such loving terms as “psychotic” or “homicidal”, Timmy is whispered by the townspeople (usually in the bar and after a few drinks) to be Mrs. Whiting’s familiar.  Appearing as if from thin air whenever Mrs. Whiting’s name is spoken, as if the uttering of her mistress’s name was the spell to summon the demon cat.  In a way, Timmy is representative of Mrs. Whiting’s nature and how she relates to people, as if she were a cat and they the wounded prey she toyed with until they bored her and she finally ended their lives.

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It took me a while to finish Empire Falls, and a bit longer than that to write this review.  It is a dense and complex novel, with several sub-plots and sub-stories.  There’s Tick, Miles’s daughter, and her steady march to adulthood.  Will she become passive and resigned to whatever the fate’s bring like her dad?  David Roby, Miles (maybe half) brother, and his life of sobriety after an accident caused by his own drunk driving, rendered his left hand useless.  And, of course, there’s the incorrigible Max Roby, Miles father, who’s life philosophy can be condensed into two words, “So What!”  Max is always on the look out for the hand out and badgers his son  for money, promising him if he’d just give him $500 then he’d take off for the Florida Keys, and he’d be out of Miles’s hair for a whole New England winter.  Tempting, Miles thinks, before realizing the old man would just call for more money once he got there.

After considering and weighing Empire Falls by Richard Russo, I came to the understanding that the best way to describe it is that it’s a “grown up book”.  Not necessarily for language, though it does have plenty of that, nor for sexual content, ditto, or for violence, though there is animal cruelty and a shooting in it, but rather that it’s the kind of book that rings several emotional and experiential bells that one needs to have lived a little to even begin to catch the nuances and appreciate the full sensations found in the book.

For its intimate and tangible moving portrayal of life in a small town, I give Empire Falls by Richard Russo  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  I cannot, for the life of me, explain why I’m holding that last 1/2 back… perhaps because it’s not a WOW book, but rather, like water slowly flowing along, eroding the rocks and banks slowly and imperceptively over time, until, all at once and a long way down river, it’ll suddenly hit me.

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I’ve been watching the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, based on this book.  It’s a really good show, and does a good job of staying close to the book, in spirit if not literally.  The screenplay was also written by Richard Russo.  As for the casting, I wasn’t entirely stoked about Ed Harris as Miles, but I did like Paul Newman’s Max Roby, and thought William Fichtner as Jimmy Minty was SPOT ON. :-)

and a twofer, this one is a brief “making of” but gives a great feel for the book itself.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Title:  Silas Marner

Author:  George Eliot

Paperback:  218 pages

Publisher:  Watermill Press

Publish Date:  1983

ISBN:  0893759961

Miscellaneous:  Mary Ann Evans was born in Warwickshire, England on November 22, 1819.  Under the name of George Eliot, she wrote several novels including Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and  Middlemarch.  George Eliot died in London on December 22, 1880.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshiped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself, but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit…  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winterflies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy.

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, or in the later afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the Stone Pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favorite  bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling “Dad-dad’s” attention continually by bringing him the flowers.  Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they might listen for the note to come again:  so that when it came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.  Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in Eppie’s little world that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory:  as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

-Silas Marner by George Eliot, pages 149-151

Silas Marner by George Eliot tells the story of the socially withdrawn weaver.  Once in love and a vibrantmember of society, Silas was betrayed by his best friend, who framed him as a thief who stole church money in order to steal Marner’s fiance.  Silas leaves the land where he has always lived and moves to the southern English country communtity of Raveloe, a town that is far out of the way of the main roads and therefore has retained its simpler, pastoral beliefs and ways.

For fifteen years Silas works at his loom, usually sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, in pursuit of his only companion,  the gold guineas he receives as pay for his work, and shuns all society.  However, when he falls victim to a robbery that separates him from his 270 pounds that he had hoarded over the years, he begins a journey of reclamation and healing.  The arrival of Eppie, the gold-haired girl he, at first, mistakes as his returned gold, slowly reawakens feelings of faith, trust and love within him.

 But… can it be meant to last?

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I vaguely remember reading Silas Marner in high school as part of the advanced English Honors program.  As I read through this a second time, I remembered why.  Eliot’s language is slow and thick, at times mind-numbingly so, and some of the descriptions of the society of a bygone era drug on and on with the inane details of gowns and cows and ghosts and blah blah blah.  I found myself wishing for a good Austen novel.  And now I’m not nearly as convinced I want to crack open Middlemarch, a book at least three times the length also by Eliot.

I did, however, love the story itself.  I felt such sympathy and excitement for Silas as I followed him through all his heartaches and then as rejoiced with him as Eppie, the orphaned child who came into his life by chance, becomes the salvation of his humanity and restores all that he once lost.

A few years ago, Hollywood modernized this story in a movie starring Steve Martin as Silas.  The movie is “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and I recommend it to anyone interested in the story (don’t post hate comments for this, but I’d rather watch the movie than read the book any day!).  Of course, the movie is not a substitute for the book as an assignment for school, but could be watched AFTER you’ve read it. ;-)

Obviously, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a literary classic and therefore has merit, but it’s definitely not my favorite classic.  I give Silas Marner 3 out of 5 stars.

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