Characters…all of them, fantastic
Sudden leaps in time
My mom gave me this book years ago, after she’d read it, assuming I would like it. Until last week, it had been sitting ever-so patiently on my “to read” bookshelf, among numerous other books that probably feel forgotten and unloved. Finally finished with the books I needed to review for The Celebrity Cafe, I was able to read something, anything, from my own collection of books. How I came to choose this one is beyond me, but it was a great place to start digging into that shelf.
Edwards writes beautifully and with an honesty that is admirable. I mean, I really adore her for the disgusting, hateful, and vile things that her characters think, feel, do, and even sometimes go as far as to say. One minute there’s a description of a landscape, that in any other scenario may seem useless and boring to readers, then the next you’re delivered the insight necessary to understand the personal meaning so crucial to that moment. These usually irrelevant, plot moving scenes are laced with so much hidden meaning and potential–as if to replicate the characters and their current states of being.
And there’s a lot that is always just below the surface for Norah, David, Paul, and Caroline. Each character has their own unique story to be told. Singular, yet entwined with all the rest. Weaving them together, in just the right pattern in order to become fully aware of the circumstance is part of the fun of reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.
Edwards’s tone is informed and authentic. She has crafted the secret that is Phoebe so perfectly, mythically even. Personally, having grown up with someone with Down syndrome, born in the same generation as Phoebe, the story was deeply moving. It was a time when these differences weren’t just seen as a hindrance, but a sentence to a short unfulfilled life. Phoebe, and my Aunt, prove that world wrong. Mentally challenged persons can, and should be afforded the chance to, live happy, long, fulfilled lives. Perhaps with difficulty and not 100% on their own, but they can. Phoebe doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes, she breaks them and lets the world at large see the unseen.
To complain about this novel is hard; my “dislike” didn’t even come until the last couple sections. Up until the late 80s section, time flowed quick well as far as I was concerned. One section/chapter seemed to lead seamlessly into the next. Then, somehow, toward the end it felt as if the need to wrap things up took hold and the gaps in time began to widen more and more. Given the events of the story, this wasn’t a huge issue. The distance between characters had also widened, making the time-lapse in sequence feel less alarming, but still a little unsatisfying (simply because I wanted there to be more more more.) I guess I’m a greedy reader!
Norah and David portray what happens to people when love is found, lost, and forever changed by life. David’s secret eats away at him and his family until, sadly, there’s nothing left. Paul, I think, can be understood by any child/parent/adult; he stands witness to his parents’ secrets, love, and hate for one another and as a result takes on bits of all these moments, thus trying to close the gap that is so obviously there. In some ways, each character (except Phoebe) plays the martyr–even if it is in their own mind. Published in 2005 (and yes, I’m way behind in the game), Kim Edwards made a grand novel debut with this tale. As a published and well-loved short story writer, fans and newcomers, alike, couldn’t have possibly been let down.