Kim Edwards, 2005.
Let me start by saying I didn’t read this book, as such. I read the first 60 pages, then skimmed through reading 2 or 3 pages here and there, then I read the end. And all the time I was remarking aloud “This book sucks”.
From my survey of the book I got the idea that the author was saying: “Hey readers, children with Down Syndrome can grow into wonderful adults who are loving and brighten our lives, so don’t institutionalize them. Also, don’t fake your baby’s death and lie to your wife about it because deception is bad for marriages”. Sure, there’s a book in that, but I’d like to think it’s a more interesting book than the one I just read. So here are the reasons I hated The Memory Keeper’s Daughter:
1.) It’s boring. Everything you need to know about the book is written in the summary on the inside dust jacket. There is no mystery or suspense because the story starts by relating the event that sets the plot in motion, and then just follows through describing the repercussions, which are exactly what the dust jacket says they are. “Hey, will the family ever discover that their supposedly dead daughter/sister is alive and well? According to the dust jacket, yes, they will. I just have to read 200 more pages to get to that bit.”
2.) Writing style is impersonal and characters are one-dimensional and dull. All character emotions are stated by the third person omniscient narrator, and the characters have no particular personality features besides the one the plot requires them to have. Mother feels bleakness at death of infant girl. Father feels guilt. Nurse loves little girl she raises. Yawn. And all the characters seem to think in the same way and speak in the same voice.
3.) “Redemptive power of love”, my ass. The only person who needs to be redeemed – the father – died before the story was resolved. Nobody else did anything wrong that necessitated redeeming. Did the nurse need to be redeemed from her single childlessness? Did the mother need to be redeemed from years of grief? Maybe in the “to obtain release from” sense but not in the “to make amends for” sense.
I think the book would have been more entertaining if it had started in the middle of the story, say with the somewhat compelling scene of the mother finding the box of photos of girls, and then focused on her trying to figure out what had happened and why. The author could have used conversations or flashbacks to fill in what happened at the baby’s birth. And perhaps the author could have picked one character to get inside and focused on the story from his/her point of view, instead of being so detached with all of them.
4.) The title. The [noun] [verber’s] [relative] pattern is so two years ago, e.g. The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Bonesetter’s Daughter. It reads like the publisher came up with something trendy to title the book, not like it grew naturally out of how the author was thinking about the story. If it had been published during the [verbing] [noun] title trend it would have been called ‘Keeping Memory’, or ‘Keeping Joy’ and the missing daughter would be named Joy. Also, the title evokes a magical realism which is totally lacking in the book, so I was mislead and pissed off.
And to show that it’s not just because I hate stories about the magical power of children to enrich our lives, here are some books with themes similar to The Memory Keepers Daughter that I enjoyed quite a bit:
- Our love for children heals us and engages us with the world: Silas Marner.
- Disavowal of a child and ensuing years of deception alienate a husband and wife: Silas Marner again.
- Woman comes to terms with death of infant and rebuilds her life: Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver
- Death of infant erodes core of family: Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood. I think that’s the one – I’m thinking of the book where the mother has a miscarriage and then becomes obsessed with her parakeet. It was tragic, creepy, and interesting.
In summary, skip The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and read Silas Marner, which is actually about the redemptive power of parental love and is happy and sweet.