Saturday, May 12, 2007

Memory Keeper's Daughter (audio)

I listened to this book while driving back and forth to work during the last week or so of my job. Mid-May of this year.

This was an interesting story. A doctor delivers his twins one winter night, when the roads are too icy for his wife's doctor to get to them. The first child, a boy, is fine. The second child has Downs Syndrome. He hands the baby to his nurse along with an address and tells her to drop the child off at that location. When his wife regains consciousness he tells her the second baby died, thus setting into motion a life full of lies.

The nurse gets to the place, described as a "home for the feeble minded." She's horrified by what she sees and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.

The book describes the lives of the two children over the years and their family environments. One child is raised in the ideal suburban setting, the other by a struggling single mother. But one child is surrounded by cold, distant parents - a father consumed with his guilt and a mother who never got over the death of her child - the other child surrounded by love and support.

The story is in some ways a reflection of the times. But more troublesome than being unwilling to raise a child with a disability is the way the father had no regard for his wife and chose to not even tell her of the existence of their child.

This is a story about a man who had no respect for his daughter or his wife. In the beginning, as he describes his wife, it becomes apparent that he regards her as nothing more than a pretty doll, never imagining that she might have feelings and ideas. He alone makes the decision to send their child away. Later in their marriage, he becomes angry and insecure when his wife decides to get a job and then starts her own travel company. He takes up photography, the manner in which he goes about this hobby is indicitive of his obsession with perfection and appearances. He has no interest in anyone's actual feelings. He just wants everything to look right. ... the evil that men do.

I found the parts of the story about the nurse raising Phoebe to be most interesting, because she becomes involved in education reform in a fight to get her "daughter" the kind of attention she needed. But at the same time, I was bothered by the awareness that the woman's devotion to the child originated from the unrequited love she felt for the doctor. (It's been a while since I read the story, so I don't remember any names.) She couldn't have him, she couldn't be the mother of his children, so she lived in a sort of pretend world, raising his child. It made the woman seem very pathetic, but in the end, she redeemed herself for her "crush".

I recently read a story in this month's issue of Vanity Fair about Arthur Miller having no relationship with his son who had Downs Syndrome. But after reading this story, even Miller doesn't seem as evil, because the mother of the child was allowed to have a relationship with her son. But the mother wanted to keep the child with her. And this again, shows that father doesn't always know best. This will be a better world when women stop submitting to their husbands' orders, and when husbands start respecting their wives opinions and decisions.

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