July 2005

Life-changing secrets haunt a family

By Kim Edwards
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Have you ever wondered how a single decision might affect every aspect of your entire life? Kim Edwards, award-winning author of the short story collection The Secrets of a Fire King, addresses this question in her new novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter. David Henry, a doctor who has escaped his humble beginnings in rural Pennsylvania, moves to Lexington, Kentucky, to begin his career. There, he meets Norah Asher, whom he marries after a brief but intense relationship. A year later, on a very snowy night in 1964, a pregnant Norah goes into labor and David and his trusted nurse, Caroline Gill, are the only witnesses to a heart-wrenching surprise: the birth of twins, one a perfectly healthy boy, the other a girl with the classic symptoms of Down syndrome.

Dr. Henry, convinced that his daughter's condition will only cause his family heartache and suffering, commands that Caroline immediately take her to an institution and tells his wife that their daughter died at birth in order to protect her. It is this fateful decision that continues to haunt the novel's characters for years to come.

Caroline attempts to follow Dr. Henry's wishes, but finds herself unable to leave the infant, Phoebe, and vanishes with her to start a new life. Norah, oblivious to the situation, feels an infinite void at the loss of her daughter, which leads her to withdraw from her marriage. David, who is constantly consumed by his dishonesty and guilt, turns to photography in an attempt to freeze the fleeting but distinct moments that make up life. The twins grow up in different states, sharing many traits but unaware of one another's existence.

Edwards takes on many themes in this novel, including the burden of secrets, the loneliness of a disintegrating marriage, the heartache and triumph of raising children and, most pointedly, the need for developmentally disabled children to feel accepted by society. The Memory Keeper's Daughter reveals the strength of family bonds under unique and difficult circumstances.

Emily Zibart writes from New York City.

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