Friday, February 22, 2008

Secret Keeping

On my last trip I finished a book called The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I had heard very good things about it but when I read the overview of it, I had a bit of trepidation. I also had read very mixed reviews. Some people loved, some hated it. I still don't know how I feel about it.

One of the things this book makes me think about is the impact of choices. A father (also a doctor who is delivering his own children in a snow storm) makes a choice: give away his newborn daughter, a twin, because she has Down's Syndrome and fears the pain of raising her and having her die as a child. He tells his wife the most horrific of lies: the baby died. As a mother, I was absolutely mortified at this choice. The author is very good at bringing out his wife's feeling of loss and being lost. She is clearly suffering from postpartum depression and had difficulty grasping the death - she didn't get to see her or hold her. Her husband doesn't understand why she can't just "let it go". There is great writing in this part of the book, representing that sensibility of the 1950's and 1960's to ignore the problem and hope a casserole, cup of tea or a good stiff drink can make it go away.

The nurse who takes the baby and raises her as her own, makes a choice to keep the secret. She is just as culpable in this scenario. She makes a choice to not go immediately and expose the secret. But she has loved the doctor from a far for a long time and goes along with it always questioning whether she made the right choice.

This basically sets the stage for a domino effect of decision, arguably right or wrong that dominate the lives of these two people and those around them.

One of the criticisms that I have heard of this book and, I have to agree, is that there comes a time when it's hard to have any more empathy for the characters. There are moments when the author has a very good ability to represent the deep wounds in these people's lives. More often then not however, she seems to deal with them more at arm's length. Maybe that was her intent. If so, it left me a bit cold. I heard someone compare this book to Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. I guess there are some superficial similarities in writing style but Kidd's story is so rich and her descriptive narrative so poignant, The Memory Keeper's Daughter just pales by comparison.

All in all the verdict is: just okay.

I am on a run now of some mediocre books. I haven't read anything lately that I really loved. I also haven't read anything that is really new so I may change my approach. While I am slowly but surely getting through my night stand list, maybe I need to go to the New Releases section of my friendly neighbourhood Indigo and take a chance there. Stay tuned, I'm bound to get a good one.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
By Kim Edwards
Viking Press