THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards

I got into audiobooks last summer, and since then, I always have a book going in the car for my (sadly short) commute to work. I generally pick up audiobooks at the library or at used book sales, and I never listen to an audiobook unless I have access to the paper version as well, so that I can re-read passages that stood out to me and make sure I didn't miss anything. Usually I pick audiobooks that are also sitting on my TBR list at home, or I borrow the paper version from the library.

Memory If an audiobook says "abridged" on it anywhere, I pass. I don't want to listen to an edited version of a book – I want to listen to the book exactly as the author intended. For some reason, I abandoned that policy a few weeks ago when I saw the audio version of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards, at a book sale. It was abridged, but the cover said that the edits were with the author's consent, so I figured it was probably fine, right?

Wrong. I started the audio, got about 2 discs in, and then browsed the paper version and found that there were plot points, passages, and entire characters left out of the audio version. That was it. I ejected the second disc, put the whole set away, and started the book over again in paper. I have learned my lesson – never again! (BTW, I just looked on Amazon and I think there is an unabridged audio version of The Memory Keeper's Daughter available as well. I had no idea. The one I bought was read by Martha Plimpton. I didn't love her narration – her voice is aggressive and formal and made the the portion that I listened to sound angry.)

So, on to my review of the book.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a 400-page book that hinges entirely on one night that occurs in the first chapter. David Henry, a Kentucky doctor, delivers his own twins in the middle of a blizzard. His first child, a son, is healthy, and his second child, a daughter, is born with the unmistakable signs of Down's Syndrome. David makes a split-second decision – he asks his nurse Caroline to take the baby girl to an institution, hoping to spare his wife Norah the grief of raising a daughter who is not likely to live long. Caroline decides to keep the baby (Phoebe), and David tells Norah that Phoebe died.

Thus two parallel stories follow – how David and Norah fare in the aftermath of his unthinkable lie, and how Caroline manages with a newborn who is not her own and who faces a lifetime of challenges. This a pretty sad book, but the story of these people, and the lies they keep from each other, is a compelling one. Kim Edwards is a good storyteller, full of compassion for her characters and skill in threading four different perspectives into a moving story.

I also liked the history lessons inherent in the book. Phoebe and her brother Paul are born in the early 60s, and The Memory Keeper's Daughter concludes in the late 80s. Edwards takes on the evolving role of women over those decades, particularly, as well as changing attitudes toward mentally handicapped children.

I am going light on the plot here, because there are a lot of secrets and twists in the book that I don't want to give away. However, there was a point in the book – about 2/3 of the way through – where Edwards went astray. Her characters had been very consistent, and then a few of them went off the tracks and did some really random stuff that felt unnatural.

I can also see why the audiobook producers felt the urge to abridge – this book could really have used some editing. There was a lot of repetition and too much explanation of the characters' feelings about each other. Not too much subtlety and very little left to the reader's own interpretation.

That said, it's a great premise, and I am glad I read the book. And I have learned my lesson about abridgements – never again!

Everyone else in the world read this book years ago – please weigh in and let me know what you thought.

13 Comments

  • Larissa
    September 5, 2011 - 10:24 am | Permalink

    I read the book and saw the Lifetime movie…both I liked. I was somewhat frustrated with David and the consequences of his choices. I thought his relationship with Paul was interesting as well. And I loved the trucker. You should try to catch the movie if it’s on again since the book is fresh in your mind. I’ve seen it rerun lately.

  • KikI
    September 5, 2011 - 10:36 am | Permalink

    I didn’t love it. I read it with one of my book groups a few years back. I just couldn’t buy into the characters or anything they chose to do. And I agree it got pretty crazy at about 2/3s of the way in…I was glad when it was over. I had friends who loved it. I couldn’t figure out why….it just didn’t work for me.

  • September 5, 2011 - 11:25 am | Permalink

    It’s been years since I read this book, but I remember loving it. Edwards is coming here for an event in January and I can’t wait to meet her!

  • September 5, 2011 - 11:28 am | Permalink

    I still haven’t read the book – I wasn’t fascinated by the premise to begin with, and then all the hype set in that left me feeling “eh”. Now that, like you said, everyone read it years ago, I may go back and read it!

  • Tena
    September 5, 2011 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I thought the premise was great. But I have to agree with Kiki. This novel didn’t work for me. It was way too long and repetitive (not well edited, perhaps) and I didn’t buy into the characters.

  • September 5, 2011 - 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Abridged audios are, in my opinion, the worst. I just can’t figure out why they need to exist in the first place. Just had a similar experience as yours with A THEORY OF RELATIVITY by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Anyway, I absolutely loved THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER. It has been awhile since I read it – at least 3 years, before my book blogging days – but it remains one of my favorites.

  • Elisabeth
    September 5, 2011 - 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this book and the movie as well. I can still remember it after having read it quite awhile ago, so that says a lot right there. I also recently read her new book Lake of Dreams which was not quite as good.
    I listen to books like you on my short commute to work, never abridged. I interlibrary loan most of the ones I want to read, I have an aversion to buying books on disc, Not sure why. I can do this all online which is a beautiful thing. I strongly suggest it. I just picked up the Sisters of Hardscrabble Road and am looking forward to listening to it.
    My belated sympathies about your dog. My pets are both old, I dread what is too come.

  • Mary
    September 5, 2011 - 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I really hated this book. I can’t remember exactly why anymore! It’s rare for me to dislike any book, but this one annoyed me a lot.
    PS this is the first time I’ve ever commented on a blog!

  • September 5, 2011 - 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow, people are all over the map on this one. I enjoyed the story, as I wrote, but it needed some editing! Mary, so exciting that you commented on my blog!

  • September 6, 2011 - 3:53 am | Permalink

    I’ve read “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Will never forget the father, the nurse, the mother, etc. Unforgettable.

  • September 6, 2011 - 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I liked it a lot when I read it (which, as you imply, was years ago!). I can’t say it stuck with me as well as I would have expected, though. I remember several specific plot points, but there’s a lot I don’t remember about it as well. (Trucker? What trucker?) Still, as you said, it’s worth reading just for the historical content as far as how much society has changed in its treatment of the mentally disabled.

  • September 11, 2011 - 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I read this book several years ago and ultimately, I enjoyed it. I found David to be difficult to like (a pompous jerk, really) and aggravating when he was almost likable. Of course I liked Norah quite a bit although I didn’t think she was always fair or nice to the trucker guy who was great! (I could be remembering wrong)
    I agree with you about some of the characters taking an unexpected turn tht didn’t sem all that realistic. I wondered why Edwards did tht. It was a good story and if she hadn’t done that, the length would have been better!
    I don’t see Martha Plimpton as a good choice for this book on audio, rather odd, actually!

  • September 25, 2011 - 6:46 pm | Permalink

    I read this book years ago, so I don’t remember much about it. I do remember liking it a lot, so I guess this book needs a revisit. Enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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