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The Memory Keeper’s Daughter: 1989 – July 1, 2-4, September 1 February 14, 2007

Posted by Jaree in Book Club Books, The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards.

The big finish … what did you think?  What would you have done in Norah’s shoes?


1. Nicole - February 21, 2007

Okay, I just have to vent a little here. I thought the part where Norah find out about Phoebe was the most disappointing part of the whole book. I was reading the book and becoming less and less interested in it, but I was willing to persevere in order to wait for the moment when te secret is revealed. And what a bummer!

Caroline just shows up? Out of the blue? And although I realize that Edwards was attempting to show Norah’s shock, it’s like I needed a little more than that. Shout, rage, cry, scream, break things, but please do a little more than get drunk, stare, fall asleep, then burn a few pictures. Seriously? She didn’t really ask Caroline any questions!! I mean, the author has basically has been painting the picture that this terrible secret has changed Norah’s life–made her an independent woman, broken up their marriage, created a strained relationship with David and Paul. And the climax is supposed to be this scene…right? Arrgh!

Okay, sorry to be the first post, I’m not attempting to be too negative, I just wanted to express my opinion and see what you all thought…?

On the other hand, I thought the part when Paul finds out was written really well, his confusion, emotion, and its like he didn’t really know what to do or what to say?

2. jddwashere - February 22, 2007

Nicole, I am totally with you … I was really disappointed in the ending of this book. I expected something more, too.

3. Ashleigh - February 23, 2007

Okay, so I have to disagree. From what I know of Norah in this book, I thought her reaction seemed realistic. She tended to hide her feelings from others, keeping them buried until she couldn’t contain them anymore. In the past she’d also turned to alcohol for comfort, specifically when dealing with her feelings about Phoebe and her “death.” Also, I think she did express her anger in throwing the pictures out the window. That’s pretty extreme, considering how much the photography was supposed to be worth.

And when it comes to great, unexpected shocks, I think there may be a numbness that can keep one from thinking of the right questions to ask. Maybe Norah was so busy letting the truth sink in that she didn’t have the ability to formulate or ask questions. I bet she thought of them later, after the shock wore off and Caroline was gone.

What I didn’t like about this book, beside it being a bit too melodramatic at times, was all the information we didn’t get. Years would pass and we didn’t know how characters resolved a certain situation — such as what happened after Paul was arrested. What was Norah’s reaction when David left? We didn’t get the immediate feelings, only those from years later. Also, I wanted to know more about Caroline and Phoebe’s life.

4. Michelle - February 23, 2007

I too noticed the unanswered questions and unresolved issues that you are speaking of Ashleigh. I, on the other hand, liked that. I felt it was also more true to life. I like that this book didn’t come in a nice, neat package– all issues resolved, all questions answered. There wasn’t a “Happy Ending”, life just continues…

5. Heather - February 24, 2007

It seems the unanswered questions and open ending fit with what this story was trying to say about life. As Paul put it “for this story, there were no simple endings.” p. 395 And a few pages later: “Waves of sound, waves of light: his father had tried to pin everything down, but the world was fluid and could not be contained.” p. 401.

Though a story that wraps everything up neatly in the end feels good to us as readers; as Michelle said, it isn’t as true to life. Though I was left wanting to know more, I think I prefer that feeling to the one I would have had if Edwards had given this story a “happily ever after” ending. I like the realistic way Paul worries about the responsibility he might have to undertake, “how his life would change with the burden of a retarded sister.” p. 397. I like that Norah is wondering how Phoebe’s presence is going to affect her new life with Frederic. I like that we’re left wondering how Caroline will deal with the “freedom” of no longer having Phoebe’s daily care be her life’s priority. In other words, life will always have loose ends. If this book had tied all of those loose ends up, it would have been like David trying to freeze a moment on film. The picture itself might have been beautiful, but it would have pinned the characters in place.

So, while I can relate to the desire to want to know more about the various characters and what happens next, I think a “happy ending” would definitely have made this book too “soap opera-ish!” Or at least too “fairy tale-ish!”

I’m still feeling torn with the whole issue of the book being melodramatic/soap opera-ish at times. I think my problem is that I tend to see the world as black and white; I look at a situation and think “Come on! Here is what’s wrong; here’s what you need to do to fix it! So fix it, already!” I found, while reading this book, that I had to step out of the box of what I would have done or how I would have reacted, or I would just get too impatient and frustrated with these characters. I had to try to understand how ingrained it was in David to keep things secret, to shut the door to grief, to not communicate. I can’t relate to Norah’s search for intimacy via affairs and her search for freedom via traveling, but I can understand her desire for intimacy and freedom. I think what makes the story melodramatic at times is that the characters are coping in ways we would view as wrong — escaping into our work, not communicating, keeping secrets, hiding our feelings. But as Michelle mentioned in an earlier post, this kind of action is probably more true to life in the real world than we’d like it to be. So, it might be melodramatic, but the question is, does that make it unrealistic?

6. Jane Swanson - February 24, 2007

Do you think Phoebe and Robert got married? What would stop them? They seemed so determined and I know that this is a real issue for high functioning Down’s people.
I guess I didn’t like how everyone was going to sort of go their own ways and let Phoebe live on her own in a group type of home. With her feelings for Robert, things could get “complicated”.
Anyway, these were my biggest questions at the end of the book.

I was glad that Norah only burned the “girl” photos that David took while “living” his daughter’s life. I’m glad that she left the rest to be Paul’s legacy. I also hope that somehow Phoebe could connect with him, inspite of all that happened… I guess that is me wanting to tie up the loose ends and make it all better somehow.

I did like this book, but I also found myself wanting the characters to be better developed.

7. Heather - February 24, 2007

Good question about Phoebe and Robert, Jane. That is a big issue we are left hanging on! I agree with you about the photo burning thing. When I started reading that section about Norah throwing everything out the window, I assumed all the photos would be ruined/lost. Then when she starts the fire, I started to get more concerned. I understood her anguish, but I still hated to see it all go. Like you, I’m glad she stopped after one box. Side note: I thought it interesting that Paul gives one of his songs the same title as one of his father’s photos — A Tree in the Heart.

I finished this book having hope for Paul and Phoebe — he’s taking the job in Pittsburgh so he’ll be in the same city, he’s expressed a desire to get to know her better. Beyond that, though, I have hope for them when I read these paragraphs on the last page: “For the rest of his life, he realized, he would be torn like this, aware of Phoebe’s awkwardness, the difficulties she encountered simply by being different in the world, and yet propelled beyond all this by her direct and guileless love.

By her love, yes. And, he realized, awash in the notes, by his own new and strangely uncomplicated love for her.”

8. Nicole - February 24, 2007

I agree that it was better for the story to not have a happy ending, it certainly made it less “fairy-tailish” and certainly more true to life. However, I did really want to know about Phoebe and Robert! They were so cute and hopeful about getting married, it certainly left me curious…

I agree with you Ashleigh about the big gaps as well, my thoughts exactly!

9. Ashleigh - February 25, 2007

To clarify, in my wanting to know more about certain situations, it wasn’t necessarily a need or desire for a “happy ending” or things to wrap up nicely. I don’t think that would have fit that book and I agree that wouldn’t be like real life. What I wanted was to know more of the immediate feelings and motivations that led certain characters to make decisions.

10. Heather - February 25, 2007

Ashleigh, I understand what you’re saying. I wonder if part of the problem is the timespan of the book — she’s trying to cover 25 years, and at times she moves at a slow pace, with one chapter being the month after the previous chapter, then all of a sudden she bumps it forward 6 years. Because of that, we miss out on feelings and emotions, and we don’t have a clear idea of how the characters got from point A to point B. It’s almost like we’re getting an aerial view, with just occasional glimpses through the clouds, versus being on the ground, experiencing every bit of terrain along the way. You can get there faster by air, but you miss a lot of the scenery!

Another thought regarding weak character development — maybe it has to do with Kim Edward’s background as a short story writer. I think this is her first novel. A short story limits you to a smaller time perameter, to a limited glimpse at someone’s character.

The other factor might be the way she weaves back and forth between the different story lines. I’ll admit, when I got to the part where Al is being all serious and Caroline blurts out that she’ll marry him, I skipped ahead just to make sure they did end up getting married! For some reason I was worried he was going to end things!

All that to say, I do hear what you’re saying about their lack of character development along the way, and the gaps in the story!

Though I’m right there with you in terms of wanting to know more about Phoebe and Caroline’s side of the story, I wonder if that is left intentionally more vague. Here we have a man who, on an impulse, gives his disabled daughter away, thinking it will spare him and his family so much grief and heartache if she is just lost to them forever. Yet as we read, we discover that “Their lost daughter still hovered between them; their lives had shaped themselves around her absence.” p. 178 The book is really about what that loss does to a marriage and a family, and the idea that even though she’s gone, her absence is a presence in their lives. I think I saw the occasional chapters about Caroline and Phoebe as being like the occasional letters and photos David received over the years — just small glimpses into what might have been! Maybe Phoebe’s story is one still waiting to be written! (Though sometimes that fizzles — I have a friend who told me she started a book that was supposed to be Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s viewpoint, and she absolutely hated it! 🙂 )

11. Michelle - February 26, 2007

Heather, I too skipped ahead to see if Caroline and Al did indeed get married… for the same reason as you. And I’m not a skip ahead kind of girl. haha.

12. Sara - February 26, 2007

I think you are right Heather, I think Edwards only gave you glimpses into Phoebes life on purpose. I think it is why this book gives a good picture of how this lie hurt.
I also like the ending, I think it left you with a realistic picture of hope. And It seemed like every charracter seems to be starting new in some way.
I was surprised that Norah was trying to forgive David and move on, “To be bitter and angry, or to try and move on. It’s the hardest thing for me, letting go of all that righteous anger. I’m still struggling. But that’s what I want to do.” (p396) I think it is admirable for her, but I was not expecting her to, maybe because it seemed like the past she delt with things so horribly. Especially with only a month between finding out she had a daughter.

13. anne - February 28, 2007

Whoa, you guys said a lot…said it all. I liked reading all your comments. All good thoughts and insights.
I guess I did not know what to expect, but I don’t know if there really could have been another ending. Like Sara said it did seem every chararcter( except David…but could he have ever started over?) was starting anew in some way.
I felt like I said before that the end was rushed, like at a certian point in the book the author wanted to wrap it up and felt rushed and I am sure not on purpose kind of closed the door on them.
My husband Justin asked about the book, because I was sad for two days after I finished reading it. I guess I felt like I was left hanging in some ways, and I was sad because David had this secret and died, and it was just sad.
It is like a movie/book/story that drains you. It really plays with your emotions in a lot of ways and drains you. Thats how I felt anyway, but overall I am glad to have read it. 🙂

14. Jane Swanson - February 28, 2007

I gave the book to Julia [my 23 yr old daughter for the rest of you] to read and she said it was the most depressing book she ever read and why did I give it to her! LOL!! [because she’s a nurse and deals with trauma on a daily basis she wanted something a bit more up-lifting to read, I guess.] She said that Caroline, as a nurse should just have told him NO. And that everyone was forgetting about the awful weather and asking her to go out in it with a newborn!!
And what about Dr. Bentley who supposedly buried the baby on his farm? Well, I suppose that he didn’t have to know that the casket was empty. . .

15. Ashleigh - February 28, 2007

Anne and Jane, I agree. It was a depressing book and somewhat draining. While it was definitely an interesting read and I think it illustrates well how destructive secrets can be, I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone — simply because I wouldn’t want them to go through the emotional rollercoaster I felt while reading.

16. bethany3boys - February 28, 2007

Love everyones responses like Anne said. While this wasn’t my favorite book I still enjoyed it. I was disappointed that David never came clean. It made me sad and upset when he died without ever resolving the issue. But like Heather and Michelle said the ending wasn’t fairy tale and very true to life. I did like that fact that Phoebe and Paul are now in the same town and can imagine them having a relationship together and that makes me smile.

Heather I didn’t know Kim was a short story writer before that does make sense in terms of character. I think she has such a great start to so many interesting characters…so maybe her next novel will be longer and full of character development. HEE HEE.

I do think this story was redemptive in the end. Like Sara said everyone starting new and Norah able to forgive and move on versus holding onto bitterness. Sure we all wish there were no affairs and David came clean etc etc but I guess it really wouldn’t be the same story. It was a sad story but I like sad stories sometimes makes me appreciate my life more and make me grateful for what I have and experience. So all that said I did enjoy this book regardless. And yes there were things I didn’t like and it made me sad but I like reading all types of books and try to get some sort of nugget from everything I read. I love the perspective of the quote from author John Milton in his writing titled Areopagitica in which he says, “but herein the difference is of bad books, that they to a discreet and judicious Reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate. ” Not that I think this was a bad book but I can take the sadness and disappointment and gather a lesson of truth. So what did I get from this book…lies and secrets snowball and create a divide I hope that I can always keep that thought at the forefront of all my relationships (even when a secret may seem small) so that there will never be a divide that continues to grow into a great canyon.

17. Ashleigh - March 1, 2007

Bethany, I agree. I think there was a redepmtive aspect to it. I was amazed at how Norah was able to forgive David. I know I can learn from that — especially since nothing I’ve ever had to forgive even compares to what she faced.

Also, I definitely believe there are benefits to reading books that give us nuggets of truth and allow us to be more grateful for our own lives. Yet, at the same time, there is importance in exercising wisdom. In knowing when to put down a book that has too much of a negative impact on our emotions, etc. There are times when being very open-minded in our reading isn’t necessarily good or of benefit to us. Anyway, I did finish this book, definitely enjoyed aspects of it, and was able to learn from it, but there were times I felt like the emotional toll of it was too much.

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