Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards, 2005.

This is a story of a doctor who, on the night of his twins' birth, sends away his new infant daughter when he realizes she has Down Syndrome, and the lifelong affect his decision has on not only himself, but his wife (who believes her daughter died at birth), his other child, and the delivery nurse who flees with the baby and raises her as her own daughter.

It was hard to know how to feel about this. My gut reaction is to get Beatrix Kiddo on Doctor Henry; YOU NEVER. TAKE. A WOMAN'S. CHILD. NEVER. And much of me can't get over that obstacle. I understood a lot of the grief in this novel, it was very well written and believable, but honestly, the only people I liked were Caroline (the nurse), Al, the truck driver she marries, and Phoebe, the daughter. Everyone else really sucked, and I'm sure that was the intended effect, but writing characters with no real redeeming qualities (other than their pain and sadness) doesn't do much in the way of making me care what happens to them. It was intelligent, and emotionally well written, but I was kind of relieved when it ended, to be honest. The very best parts dealt with Caroline's concern and love for Phoebe:

"Caroline felt a rush of despair. They'd never really see Phoebe, these men, they would never see her as more than different, slow to speak, and to master new things. How could she show them her beautiful daughter Phoebe, sitting on the rug in the living room and making a tower of blocks, her soft hair falling around her ears and an expression of absolute concentration on her face? Phoebe, putting a 45 on the little record player Caroline had bought her, enthralled by the music, dancing across the smooth oak floors. Or Phoebe's soft small hand suddenly on her knee, at a moment when Caroline was pensive or distracted, absorbed by the world and its concerns. You okay, Mom? she would say, or simply, I love you."

One final thought: I am really not a fan of any sort of third person-specific omniscient narration. I find it kind of lazy and annoying, and really sort of a cheat at storytelling, especially when the POV flip-flops from page to page as it did in this book a few times. Had it been contained wholly each character's chapter, I think it would have worked better. I know it's common, and these inside his head/inside her head kind of parallel stories are probably the norm these days, but it's sloppy. Maybe it's a control freak thing.

Also: check out FuckYeahLost today; my art is up! It's quite an honor to be on such a cool site; Gratitude to Crit and Louise!

11 comments:

Donald said...

Good review, but you lost me at the end where you completely dismissed any use of third-person omniscient narrative as "lazy" and "annoying."

Come on! It's just one way of writing, no more lazy or annoying than any other way. It's all in how the writer uses his or her tools, not the actual tools themselves.

television lady said...

i hate it.

television lady said...

show me someone doing it well and i'll revise my statement.

Donald said...

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

television lady said...

i've not read it. I'll add it to my list. And also, clearly there are people who can do it, well. I don't consider myself above Tolstoy or Tolkien obviously, but lately in everything I read it just seems like the norm and it's bothersome.

Donald said...

I'm not saying it's always done well, nor that it is always the right choice regardless of the story's content. I just don't like blanket dismissals of any kind of literary style all together.

Except for epistolary novels, which are just huge pieces of shit.

television lady said...

okay, you're right. it was dismissive of me. The literary Gods that be decided to punish me appropriately and LOSE the first 1/3 of MY ARTICLE for examiner!

I suppose i should qualify it by saying, I have only read Omniscient Narrator (limited/specific) in mediocre books where the style itself was kind of gimmicky, it seems to be all over the place. And if they maybe organized it a little better, I might feel differently, like this chapter it's the redhead, this one, the clown, this one Talky Tina, whatever. but this one-to-the-next-to-the-next-back-to-the-first bothers me. And i do think it's sloppy and lazy.

Like they should preface the story: GOD IS TELLING THIS NARRATIVE. GOD KNOWS AND SEES EVERYTHING, SO YOU KNOW AND SEE EVERYTHING. NO ONE WILL NEED TO REACT OR SUGGEST THEIR FEELINGS OR THOUGHTS THROUGH ANYTHING BUT A STRAIGHT OUT FEED INTO THEIR BRAINS. Enjoy.

And I would put the book back and read, I don't know, Charles Bukowski or something better worthy of my time.

Donald said...

So you don't like writing that seems sloppy and lazy, but you like Charles Bukowski?!!

That's like saying, "I love structure and intricate rhyming schemes, so that's why my favorite poet is e e cummings."

Donald said...

And how did you lose your article? I thought you write everything in longhand first?

television lady said...

charles bukowski gave someone a tiny COFFIN for a wedding gift, and flung it at them saying, HAPPY MARRIAGE!

there's sloppy, and there's SLOPPY-AWESOME.

and i don't really read poetry, it's actually too structured for me . . . :)

television lady said...

I revised it. And should have probably said LIMITED/SPECIFIC third person omniscient from the beginning, which is what bothers me, not general TPO.

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