I should have known - on the cover is glowing praise from Sue Monk Kidd, author of Mermaid Chair. I didn't like Mermaid Chair (But enjoyed Secret Life of Bees) I am beginning to think that there is something seriously wrong with my literary tastes. Memory Keeper's Daughter is the flavor of the season - a bookclub darling. There are still 32 requests for it at my library - in other words, 32 people are in line, breathlessly waiting to read it. (The library has 14 copies plus a bookclub kit and CD.) It was published in 2005, so it's not just a flash in the pan! Now for the truth - I found the book slow, annoying and well, numbing.
David Henry, orthopedist, on a snowy day in 1964 delivers his own twins. Without telling his wife, Norah, he "hands over his daughter," who has Down Syndrome, to his nurse, Caroline Gill, telling her to take the baby, Phoebe, to an institution. Caroline just can't do it and decides to keep Phoebe, raising her as her daughter. What ensues is 25 years of interminable introspection, alienation, and regret. Oh goodie.
There is a lot of repetition of imagery and thought in this book. For instance, Caroline, when pondering whether to leave Phoebe at the institution, keeps returning and returning to the image of the dark haired young woman in a slip being shorn of her hair in the institutional cold. David Henry refers again and again to the day he "handed over" (using that phrase) his daughter to Caroline Gill. I get it, I get it!!
The Memory Keeper's Daughter functions on the premise that the family is torn apart by David Henry's secret, but I think Norah is a basically weak character, and she would never have been able to cope with Phoebe. She's too concerned with moving in the proper social circles as shown by her reaction to Kay Marshall. She would have been a promiscuous lush anyway. I just couldn't cope with this book's bleak view of relationships (maybe that's my problem - but I loved the Moviegoer. Go figure.) Paul, the son, rails constantly about his father's lack of love for him in spite of the fact that David tries to connect. But, alas, somewhere along the line, David has expressed his reservations about Paul's being a musician and well, that's it! David can never convince the kid of his pride and love. It's really quite a sad story of a basically good man, who makes a bad decision. David Henry is burdened by secrets and surrounded by very needy people.
On a more positive note - I rejoiced in Phoebe's life and Caroline's love for her daughter.
To sum up: I found the constant, interior ruminations tedious - like listening to the slow ticking of a clock, and I could not muster much sympathy for Norah. Without that sympathy, the book for me was an exercise in endurance. And maybe I do need some sort of biblio-therapeutic intervention.