The Memory Keeper's Daughter
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2011)|
|Publisher||Viking Press (2005)
Penguin Books Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||401 p. (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-14-303714-5 (paperback edition)|
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a novel by American author Kim Edwards that tells the story of a man who gives away his newborn daughter, who has Down syndrome, to one of the nurses. Published by Viking Press in June 2005, the novel garnered great interest via word of mouth in the summer of 2006 and placed on the New York Times Paperback Bestsellers List. The novel was adapted to television film and broadcast on Lifetime Television in April 2008.
In 1964, during an unusual Kentucky blizzard, Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver his wife Norah's first child, with the help of a nurse, Caroline Gill. Their first child, a boy they name Paul, is born a visibly perfect child, but it then becomes apparent that Norah is giving birth to twins. When the second baby, a girl, is born, David notices immediately she has Down Syndrome. David, recalling the possibility of heart complications and early death, and thinking of his younger sister, June, who died at the age of twelve due to being born with a heart defect, decides that the baby girl will be placed in an institution to spare Norah the great grief and suffering June's premature death had caused his own mother. Caroline Gill, the nurse who has been romantically in love with David since the moment she first met him, is charged with the task of carrying the infant to the institution. After assessing the wretched conditions of the place, however, she decides to keep and raise the baby herself. Remembering Norah's mention of the names she had chosen for her baby, both for a boy and a girl, Caroline names the baby Phoebe. While Caroline is at the store buying baby supplies, her car battery dies and she is stranded in the snow with Phoebe. She is picked up by a truck driver, Albert "Al" Simpson, who lets her shelter with Phoebe in his truck before driving them to Caroline's home in Lexington, and eventually staying there for the night. Meanwhile, David lies to Norah and tells her that their daughter died at birth. This leaves his passive wife plagued by post-natal depression, as those around her refuse to let her talk about the daughter she lost, treating her as if she should be satisfied with Paul and forget about Phoebe's 'death'. She decides to hold a memorial for Phoebe and places an announcement in the paper without David's knowledge—astonished, Caroline seeks David out after reading it, and, after hearing that she had kept Phoebe rather than take her to the institution for disabled people, he bids her to do what she thinks is right. Caroline refuses the money he offers her and leaves for Pittsburgh to make a fresh start with Phoebe, whom she raises as her own daughter.
One year later, the "death" of their daughter has caused a rift between David and Norah's romantic relationship and marriage. They move to a new home, but continue to find it difficult to romantically connect together. Norah had a surviving healthy twin, Paul, but wants another child. David, fearing the birth of another disabled child, refuses and tells Norah that having another child is a misguided attempt to replace Phoebe. David is haunted by memories of his childhood, especially his family's struggle with poverty (he had to catch snakes to pay his way through high school), his younger sister June's premature death at the age of twelve, and his parents.
Norah drinks too much for the first time and crashes her car on the night of their anniversary. Her anniversary gift to David, a camera, becomes an obsession with him, and adds to their rift.
Meanwhile, Caroline is living in Pittsburgh and begins working for Dorothy "Doro" March as a private nurse for her father, Leo. Leo is an often disagreeable elderly physicist whose brilliant, talented mind is slowly failing. Caroline and Phoebe live with Doro and Leo, with Caroline working for room, board and pay. Caroline claims that Phoebe is her daughter and loves her deeply. Doro notices Phoebe's slow development and Caroline explains Phoebe has Down Syndrome. She tells a half-true story of running away from Phoebe's father because he wanted to institutionalize Phoebe.
Caroline sends letters and pictures of Phoebe to David. David sends money to Caroline through a PO Box address, and makes a half-hearted attempt to find out where Caroline and Phoebe live. Meanwhile, Al, the truck driver who assisted Caroline on the night of Phoebe's birth, discovers her whereabouts. He and Caroline begin regular visits, and romance begins to bloom between them.
Six years later, the distance between the Henrys has increased. David is now an aspiring photographer with his own darkroom, where he keeps Phoebe's pictures and Caroline's letters locked away. He immerses himself in his work. Norah continues to drink secretly and becomes overprotective of six-year old Paul. She throws herself into time-consuming projects and activities and tries to build a life of her own by applying for a job with a travel agency. Little Paul is oblivious to this. He is a happy child who does well at school and develops his talents for music and singing. Norah's helicopter parenting increases due to his severe allergy to bees, and after he breaks an arm falling out of a tree.
In Pittsburgh six-year old Phoebe is growing up a healthy child despite her mental disabilities and David's negative predictions at her birth. She loves butterflies and singing. Caroline and the Upside Down Society, a group of other parents of Down Syndrome children petition the school system to mainstream their children in public school.
Leo March has died but Doro, used to Caroline and Phoebe's company, asks them to remain living with her. Al still visits Caroline and has proposed to her twice. She continues to decline, although out of doubts for his fatherly love for Phoebe rather than his romantic intentions toward her. He persists, bringing small gifts for her or Phoebe at each visit. He also continues to deliver letters, often containing money, from David Henry.
Phoebe is stung by a bee while at play and has a serious allergic reaction. Al helps Caroline take her to the hospital, and steps in when a nurse's comment about Phoebe's condition outrages Caroline. Caroline realizes his genuine love for her and fatherly intentions for Phoebe. She tells Al she wants to marry him.
Paul and Phoebe are now thirteen, and Caroline and Al have been married five years. Phoebe has been confirmed and Doro has retired to leave on a year-long cruise with her boyfriend and lover, Trace. Caroline has saved the money David Henry sent her over the years and deposited it in a trust for Phoebe. David sends Caroline a letter, asking her to let him meet Phoebe and allow her to know her twin brother, Paul. Phoebe disappears briefly and panics Caroline, who finds her rescuing a kitten from a water drainage pipe. Caroline decides not to contact David again, worried he might unknowingly hurt Phoebe. Caroline remembers how he hurt her, by pretending not to notice and ignoring her romantic love for him. She believes he wants too much from her, too late, and fears he'll engage in the same fickle behavior to Phoebe.
Paul is becoming an accomplished guitarist and dreams of attending Juilliard while simultaneously engaging in daredevil teen behavior. He experiments with cannabis and walks on rail tracks. David and Norah live almost completely separate lives and differ on what Paul should do when he's older. Norah simply wants her son to be happy, while David pushes Paul to play basketball and follow a career path that will guarantee stability, money, and success.
Norah excels in her work at the travel agency but is still frustrated by the distance in her marriage. While on vacation, in Aruba, she has a romantic love affair with Howard, who is also married with children at home. David and Paul realize what she's done, but never talk about it. David blames the affair on himself and continues to spend more and more time in his darkroom with his photographs of Phoebe.
Paul and Phoebe are now twenty-five. Rosemary and her three-year old son, Jack, move back to live with her family. Norah and David are divorced, and Norah is dating another man. Paul is traveling and studying music in France. Phoebe is in love with Robert, who also has Downs syndrome, and wants to get married and live in a group home. Caroline is scared to let Phoebe live an independent life.
David returns to his old family home to fix a leaky sink for his now ex-wife Norah. He considers making a confession to Norah about Phoebe, but can't bear to go through with it. Soon afterward he dies from a heart attack. Later, when Norah sorts through David's collection of photographs, she begins to understand him in a way she never did when they were married. Caroline comes to visit Norah and explains that Phoebe never died at all and is living with her in Pittsburgh. Norah and Paul later visit Pittsburgh and meet Phoebe for the first time. Norah marries the new man in her life, with both twins in attendance. At last she has her emptiness is filled and the grief she experienced for so many years is finally over. Paul drives Phoebe to their late father's grave, despite her not knowing who he was to her. Paul thinks of what his twin sister might have been like if she had not been born with Down's syndrome. He and Phoebe then leave the cemetery to take her back home to her adoptive parents, Caroline and Al.
Made-for-TV film adaptation
A made-for-television movie premiered on Lifetime Television on April 12, 2008. The film's cast includes Dermot Mulroney as David, Gretchen Mol as Norah, and Emily Watson as Caroline. The adolescent and adult Phoebe is played by Krystal Hope Nausbaum, an actress with Down syndrome. The movie eliminates the characters of Doro, her father Leo, Rosemary and her son Jack. Portions of the moview were shot in Windsor, Nova Scotia. 5,822,000 viewers watched the film and it received a 4.0 household rating. The movie was also the most watched show on cable for the week of April 7–13, 2008. It was released to DVD in October 2008.
- As of November 26, 2006, the book had spent 21 weeks on the New York Times Paperback Bestsellers list. "New York Times Paperback Fiction Bestsellers" nytimes.com. URL Accessed November 28, 2006
- Matthew Gilbert (April 12, 2008). "Secrets and sympathy make for a compelling 'Daughter'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-04-13.