The Memory Keeper's Daughter

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author Kim Edwards
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Viking Press (2005)
Penguin Books Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 401 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-14-303714-5 (paperback edition)
OCLC 69010346

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.[1] The novel was adapted to television film and broadcast on Lifetime Television in April 2008.


March 1964[edit]

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, even after they move to a new home, as they now find it difficult to romantically connect with one another. Norah had a surviving healthy twin, Paul, but wants another child; David says no, telling Norah that to have another child would be her way of replacing Phoebe. David thinks a lot about his childhood—the struggles with poverty (he had to catch snakes to pay his way through high school), his younger sister, June, and her 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 her and David's anniversary. Norah buys David a camera as an anniversary gift, which rapidly becomes an obsession for him.

Meanwhile, Caroline is in Pittsburgh and is hired by a woman named Dorothy "Doro" March, to work as a private nurse for her father, Leo, an oft disagreeable elderly physicist whose brilliantly gifted and talented mind is slowly failing him. Caroline and Phoebe live with Doro and Leo, with Caroline working for room, board and pay. Caroline claims that Phoebe is her daughter, and cares for her as such, staying up all night with Phoebe in a steamy bathroom to relieve her croup. Doro notices Phoebe's slow development, and Caroline tells her that Phoebe has Down Syndrome, claiming she ran away from Phoebe's father as he wanted to put Phoebe in an institution: a half-truth. Caroline sends letters and pictures of Phoebe to David. David sends money to Caroline through a PO Box address, and then makes a half-hearted attempt to find out where Caroline and Phoebe live. Al, the truck driver who had assisted Caroline on the night of Paul and Phoebe's birth, discovers their whereabouts and begins visiting regularly, which indicates a blooming romance between him and Caroline.


Six years later, the distance between the Henrys has grown even further. David is now an aspiring photographer with his own darkroom, where he keeps Phoebe's pictures and Caroline's letters hidden under lock and key. He retreats further into himself, immersing himself in his work—whilst Norah, still drinking secretly, is quite overprotective of six-year old Paul, and has taken to throwing herself into time-consuming projects and activities to distract herself and fill up her days, including applying for a job with a travel agency in an attempt to build a life of her own. Little Paul, however, is oblivious to this. A happy child, doing well at school, he seems to have an intuitive aptitude and natural talent for music and singing, as well as a severe allergy to bees and a broken arm which he sustains falling out of a tree.

In Pittsburgh, contrary to the prediction David made at her birth, six-year old Phoebe is growing up a healthy child, despite her mental disabilities. She loves butterflies and singing, and attends preschool. Caroline and a group of other women—the Upside Down Society—are petitioning to let their children with Down Syndrome go to 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 regularly, and has twice proposed to her. However, she has turned him down both times, doubting not his romantic love for her but his fatherly love for Phoebe. Each time he visits, he brings small gifts for her or Phoebe, and letters—containing money—from David Henry. While playing, Phoebe is stung by a bee, and Phoebe also turns out to be allergic. Al helps get Phoebe to a hospital, and steps in when a nurse's comment about Phoebe's condition makes Caroline see red. At this, Caroline realizes that he really does indeed love and care about Phoebe as a father. Following this incident, Caroline says yes to marrying Al without him having to ask.


Paul and Phoebe are now thirteen years old, and Caroline and Al have been married for five years. Phoebe has been confirmed and Doro has retired to leave on a year-long cruise with her boyfriend and lover, Trace. Over the years, Caroline has saved the money David Henry has sent her and kept it in a trust for Phoebe. David sends Caroline a letter, asking her to let him meet Phoebe and to let Phoebe know her twin brother, Paul. Phoebe disappears briefly, panicking Caroline, who finds her rescuing a kitten from a water drainage pipe. Caroline decides not to contact David again, worried that David might unknowingly hurt Phoebe (as he hurt her, by either not noticing or ignoring her romantic love for him) and feeling that he wants too much from her, too late.

Paul is becoming an accomplished musician, playing the guitar and piano and dreaming of attending Juilliard, while also behaving like a daredevil teenager - experimenting with cannabis and walking on rail tracks. David and Norah, now living almost separate lives, have differing views on what Paul should do when he's older - Norah simply wants her son to be happy, while David pushes for his son to take an interest in basketball and to follow a career path that will guarantee him stability, money, and success. Norah Henry is excelling in her work at the travel agency, though she is still frustrated by the growing distance between her and David, and his apparent lack of romantic love and interest in her. While on vacation, in Aruba, she has a romantic love affair with Howard, a divorcee. Both David and Paul realize what she has done, but neither of them 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 years old. 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 to him and live in a group home. Caroline is scared to let Phoebe live an independent life. While in the old family home to fix a leaky sink as a birthday gift to now ex-wife Norah, David contemplates finally telling Norah about Phoebe but cannot bear to go through with it. Soon after 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, but 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 Paul and Phoebe in attendance, bringing completeness to the emptiness that has been in her life for so many years. In the end, 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 would 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[edit]

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.[2] The movie dispenses with characters Doro and her father Leo as well as Rosemary and her son Jack. The movie was shot, in part, in Windsor, Nova Scotia.[3] It was watched by 5,822,000 viewers and received a 4.0 household rating.[4] The movie was also the most watched show on cable for the week of April 7–13, 2008. The film's DVD release was in October 2008.


  1. ^ 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" URL Accessed November 28, 2006
  2. ^ Matthew Gilbert (April 12, 2008). "Secrets and sympathy make for a compelling 'Daughter'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ [1]