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.

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Merging Reality with Fantasy

Second liOkay… I’ve wrote on here about my absence being related to an addiction to a Virtual Reality world called Second Life.  Many of you have commented about running in terror (or something close to it) from such a potentially life-sucking vortex, and maybe I can’t disagree with you on that… lol.  If you’re on susceptible to addictions then you’d probably do well to get the crucifix and holy water to spray in the general direction of anything that puts the words “Second” and “Life” in the same sentence.

But….  Why is it so addictive?  Why do I get a panicked feeling sitting in front of the computer and NOT have Second Life going?  Why am I seriously considering plunking down hard cash for a new computer so I can fully enjoy the effects and not laaaaaaaag to the outer realms of darkness?  LOL… Why do I actually put real money … US dollars… into my PayPal account so I can buy Lindens, the currency of Second Life?  I want to take this non-book related blog post to tell you (and to sort it out myself, for that matter).

Firstly, in the real world I’m a single mom of three wonderful girls.  Sam, 15, is a sophomore in high school and is starting to talk about moving out.  As her mother, of course I see all the things with her that make me worry about her abilities to survive on her own.  Firstly, gack! are there very many 15-year-olds that behave and function in a way that inspire parental confidence in their abilities to be responsible adults?  It’s a very strange time with her.  The other night she said she couldn’t wait until she’s 18 so she won’t have a bedtime… omg… I’ll never sleep (of course, thanks to Second Life, I don’t sleep now).  Secondly, she has a mental illness, and must take her medication or she hears voices and becomes severely paranoid.  Problem is, she hates taking her pills.  Who’s going to make sure she takes them if she lives alone?  Who will make sure she showers?  Who’s going to make sure she’s eating healthy, and not just spooning heaps of sugar on everything? Oh my, the thoughts and worries I have for my bunny (her nickname from the time she was 6 weeks old and I put a little knit hat with a funny little frill around her face.  I took one look at her and said she was my little snow bunny, and bunny stuck.  Tigger her other nickname because, as she has ADHD, she is very bouncy-bouncy-flouncy 😉 )

Then there is Gwen… my sweet, loving, at times mischievous, and mildly mentally handicapped.  At fourteen and in the eighth grade she is reading at about a second to third grade level.  Her math is higher; she’s working at a fifth grade level.  Socially, she’s disadvantaged, not understanding the nuances of social play.  She takes people at their word and falls for the cruel tricks middle-schoolers play on one another.  Again, how can I expect her to function as an adult?  To pay her bills and remember to put the milk away? She has such lofty dreams of being a jockey, a vet assistant, having a farm and horse (oh, how she loves horses!).  How can I tell her these things will more than likely not be possible for her?  I don’t, and I hope I’m not being cruel in the long run, because the world is cruel enough as it is and it will tell her she can’t have these things.  What she needs is a cheerleader, and I do my best to be that for her. 

What compounds Gwen’s problems is that, while her sisters have fathers who are very involved in their lives, she does not.  If she sees  her dad four times in the year she’s lucky, and that breaks my heart, as well as her sisters’,  for her loss.  She will look for that love in someone, anyone, who shows her the slightest attention.  What heartaches lie ahead for her?

Then there’s Maggie, whom you’ve met in her guest reviews.  Pretty, extroverted, and a normalmentally, intellectually and physically sound child.  She’s a treasure (not that the other two aren’t) because she’s easy.  With her I can hope for a successful future.  She wants to be a doctor and go to Vietnam to help with those less fortunate.  She’s a girl’s girl, bringing home all the stories of the day, from who had to pull a stick to updates on the frenemy sagas.  In every sense of the word, a normal nine-year-old.  And I feel miserably guilty for thinking and feeling this way, as if I’m writing off the other two.

And in all this, I am a single parent who has not dated in 10 years, and have not been romantically involved in five years (sorry if that is TMI, but it all goes toward the reasons Second Life is such a drug).  Kids, house, lawn, garden, dog, cats… bills… doctors appointments… school meetings… responsibilities heaped on responsibilities… being a grown up is hard.

Now, imagine a place where all that goes away.  Where I’m free.  Where I can fly.  Where I can where all the clothes that I can’t in real life because I’m not a size 2 and I’m a mother of daughters who are watching me for the path to take in their lives.  I can be a flirt.  I can have tons of friends.  I’m a vampire.  I can play sound clips from movies and act them out.  I don’t have to work.  I don’t have bills to pay.  It’ all fun and no responsibilities.  All the things in the real world can be found there, and whatever you can imagine and more.  I can live  in my favorite TV show, in fact my apartment is set in the UK cult classic show “The Prisoner”… which I did NOT know until after I had rented my place.  All my neighbors are running around capturing each other and playing spy games.  Since I’ve never seen the show, I’ve not joined in.  I can make a date at a romantic waterfall on a tropical island.  How can you NOT become seriously sucked into this virtual world?

Then throw into all that the people I’ve made friends with there… I’ve got to share a couple of them with you:

An artist and videographer (I hope that’s what it’s called) who’s entered the following cool video in a festival in Germany.

For No One

And SoliGoth, an artist for hire trying to feed his cats and get a better computer (a common SL theme for reasons discussed above). His cafepress store has some unique items for your perusing (and purchasing) enjoyment. My particular favorites are Mark’s Invisible Shirt and the Short Bus Bag (okay, I have a politically incorrect sense of humor…). Visit his store. Make a purchase. Feed his cats 😉