Friday, October 26, 2007


During the emergency conditions of a fluke snowstorm, an admired society surgeon delivers his pregnant wife of two babies--a healthy baby boy and a twin sister with the obvious signs of Down syndrome. Thinking to spare his wife the pain of raising and possibly losing this daughter, the doctor asks the nurse on duty to take the baby girl to an institution. He tells his wife that her daughter was born dead. Thus is irrevocably set in motion a chain of events that will change many lives.

I'll start with the bad points of the book for me, which rather upset my reading but didn't ruin the book. It was too long, first--it is a quiet plot that looks into the lives of a very small set of characters, but it dragged on to 400 pages. Also, the writing was a little stale for me; nothing unusual or gripping about the prose, and the opening 25 pages in particular felt like a Hallmark greeting card. I'll admit there was a lot of text-skimming on my part. Now onto the pros.

The theme that I find most provocative is the concept of two people wasting each other, of an unhappy relationship that tumbles to a state beyond redemption but that the characters, for whatever reason, continue to endure. I think that this is a difficult but provocative subject in a book, because I think this kind of relationship is something that happens to a lot of people in "real" life but is not perceived as romantic/active enough to get portrayed in fiction. But it's a theme that must hit close to home for many of us; I for one lap up books that try to broach the subject. Kim Edwards definitely succeeds in creating an inevitably failed and wasted relationship; another commercial success is KITE RUNNER.

Another thing that was interesting to me is that the bone of contention in the entire book is Phoebe, the daughter with Down syndrome, but as a character she is barely there. Although her existence changes/ruins many lives (through absolutely no fault of her own), she matters much more as a concept than as an entity. For her birth family, it is the fact of her absence and the lies that surround her whereabouts that tear a family apart. For her adopted family, we see the difficulties of public prejudices and disadvantages that her adopted mother must overcome to get her equal treatment in schools and to understand her relationship with the adult world. But in neither case does the author attempt to get into Phoebe's mind and character--which is to her credit. This book isn't, after all, about Down syndrome--it's about the unpredictable ways in which well-meaning people fail one another.


angelle said...

i liked this a lot, although i really hate how it ultimately ends... im a big proponent of communication and the outing of truth...

this was difficult for me to get into too - the first 25 pages. i think she could easily have started the book with him already driving her through the snow, in the grips of labor. but that's just my personal taste that perhaps books should begin in the middle of a beginning without us...

i did like the topic though. im a sucker for books involving family secrets and the consequences such secrets have upon people and relationships. so i thought this was good, if unsatisfying for me in the end.

Froog said...

Haven't read this, but....

Am I the only person who is bugged to hell by the current penchant for adding the redundant description 'a novel' under the title??

I think it's partly the unnecessariness of it. What - you didn't realise what section of the bookstore you were in? You couldn't deduce what kind of book it was from the title, the cover, the author? You thought maybe it was a kids' pop-up book or a home improvement manual or an Urdu dictionary, perhaps?

It also seems to me that there's a certain portentousness about it.... rather as with that pompous opening credit: "A film by..." It seems to be saying: "Average writers, hack writers, most of the other people on these shelves can only write books; but this, THIS is a novel!"


moonrat said...

Well, actually, it's funny that you bring this up. It's an ongoing debate among editors (and a long debate on EdAss), and most people stand firmly on one side of the fence or the other. I, for one, like to use the useless tag occasionally--it serves a couple of purposes.

One: I actually thought this book (MEMORY KEEPER) was a memoir until I started reading... so you really CAN'T say there aren't stupid people out there who don't know what they're reading. (You could, however, argue that clearly the cover tag didn't help me, so why should it help anyone else?)

Two: for novels with short titles, adding a tag like "A Novel" provides another design element to make the cover more attractive/artistic.

Three: snob appeal. You don't put down "A Novel" if it's genre fiction.

So while the motives might not be good ones, there ARE some arguments. Like or dislike as you choose.

Leigh Russell said...

Lots to think about here. Does 'genre fiction' not qualify for the title of 'novel'? I don't much care either way, Moonrat, I just wondered, as my own writing is clearly genre fiction (crime thrillers), and I have been talking about my 'novel'. I think I'll stop doing that. I'd hate to sound pretentious.

Family secrets can be a great hook for the reader. My Detective Inspector has a constantly unravelling background which I'm developing throughout a series of books. (Note I didn't say novels!) Her back story shoots off in so many directions, it's been a great way to develop interest in her, as the character who links the series.

Ello said...

It's funny, I've been waffling on getting this book for many of the reasons you have listed plus I never could get past the first few pages when I pick it up at the store.

moonrat said...

hey Leigh! I hope you read this.

First, I owe you an apology--I only JUST realized this morning that I never sent you an invitation for this blog! Which was really bad of me because you asked like a week ago. So now it's in your gmail inbox. I'm glad you'll be reviewing, too, because you obviously have some interesting opinions from your own publishing perspective.

Second, I do think the phrase "a novel" is a little [lovingly] pretentious. Not in a bad way. But the way we use it in publishing is different from the way it is used by authors, so call your book whatever you want.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi there Moonrat

I'm very excited at receiving an invitation to join The Book Book and must get reading so I can start reviewing. I belong to a book club (just four friends who get together to discuss what we've read) and I've been threatened with a penalty (!!)because I'm always the last to read the books. Trouble is, I've been so busy writing! There just aren't enough hours in the day! Hopefully joining you will inspire me to read more and keep me out of trouble with my book club.. Otherwise it sounds like I'll be doing the washing up ...

We're reading 'The Secret Life of Bees' which I've just started (we meet again tomorrow). I'll let you know what I think, shall I?

Thank you again for inviting me to join you.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Moonrat,

I've been reading through some of the reviews, now that I'm a member!

You mention that you find most mystery thrillers too plot driven and I agree there seems to be a growing obsession in modern culture for fast paced action and not much else. The Da Vinci Code springs to mind. This was a real page turner, but horrendously written. It irked me enormously to keep reading it, but I couldn't put it down. It was one of my inspirations to start writing, as it happens. I knew I could do better than that insult to the reading public, compelling though the plot is.

The same is sadly happening in films, TV and the visual arts. Immediate impact seems to be the only aim.

I await with some trepidation your response to my own book when it comes out, if you read it. Too plot driven??? Perhaps you could let me know privately, in secret, in a very small font??

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

I liked the idea of this book, but I'm not sure it was delivered in full. Maybe it was rushed to press, but many times, I felt like the author thought her readers were "forgetful", as she constantly reminded us that the father had given his daughter away at birth and why, as well as many other details. I felt beat over the head with redundant details. I rarely finish a book that frustrated me this much, but I decided to finish it to see what all the fuss was about. I was disappointed with the ending that felt contrived.

But, KUDOS to Kim Edwards for creating a story MANY love. I think she dealt with sad, family/marriage issues rarely touched upon, but run rampant throughout America, if not the world. Congratulations, Kim, for capturing the mood of such a family, and showing the destruction secrets cause in a marriage.

Froog said...

Hi Moonrat,

I don't think it's at all pretentious for writers to call their books 'novels', if that's what they are. And works of 'genre fiction' can be novels just as much as 'art' fiction.

But I do not at all accept the need to put that description on the cover.

I'm afraid I found all of your arguments in favour pretty lame.

Differentiating from other novel-like genres? Well, it's up to the non-standard genres to identify themselves more carefully - I am not so violently opposed to using the tag 'A Memoir'! But don't these books usually have a more individually descriptive tag-line like "A redneck on Wall Street" or "A mother's incredible survival story"?

An additional cover design element? Like most book cover designs aren't horribly over-cluttered already!! I think adding a tag like this just gives the reader the impression you couldn't decide what font you wanted on the cover, so tried TWO.

Snob value? Counter-productive pretentiousness! You can identify genre fiction easily enough from the picture on the cover. Putting 'a novel' on the cover may possibly deter some 'genre fiction readers' from buying your book - is that really what you want?! It will probably also deter some 'art fiction readers' like me, whose scepticism is aroused by what seems to be such a feeble and desperate self-promoting claim. I can't see that it is going to attract any additional readers, ever.

moonrat said...

Froog, if it makes you feel better, I haven't let anyone include the words "a novel" on the covers of any of my upcoming fiction titles. I don't think there are many people who consciously react positively toward "a novel" but there are definitely people like you who consciously react negatively. So you win.

Froog said...

Yay - I like it when I win! I just knew you couldn't really be on the side of The Unnecessary Subtitlers, Moonrat.

I don't get to spend nearly as much time in bookshops as I'd like these days, but I think the whole "a novel" tagline thing is a) quite a new fad, and b) probably largely or exclusively an American aberration. I can't ever recall seeing it on a British edition of something. And a quick review of the books I have with me here confirms that none of them is so labelled.

I was thinking of titling my work-in-progress:


A crypto-autobiography