The memory keepers daugh.., p.43
The Memory Keeper's Daughter,
By her love, yes. And, he realized, awash in the notes, by his own new and strangely uncomplicated love for her.
Her voice, high and clear, moved through the leaves, through the sunlight. It splashed onto the gravel, the grass. He imagined the notes falling into the air like stones into water, rippling the invisible surface of the world. Waves of sound, waves of light: his father had tried to pin everything down, but the world was fluid and could not be contained.
Leaves lifted; sunlight swam. The words of this old hymn came back to him, and Paul picked up the harmony. Phoebe did not seem to notice. She sang on, accepting his voice as she might the wind. Their singing merged, and the music was inside him, a humming in his flesh, and it was outside, too, her voice a twin to his own. When the song ended, they stayed as they were in the clear pale light of the afternoon. The wind shifted, pressing Phoebe’s hair against her neck, scattering old leaves along the base of the worn stone fence.
Everything slowed, until the whole world was caught in this single hovering moment. Paul stood very still, waiting to see what would happen next.
For a few seconds, nothing at all.
Then Phoebe turned, slowly, and smoothed her wrinkled skirt.
A simple gesture, yet it set the world back in motion.
Paul noted how short and clipped her fingernails were, how delicate her wrist looked against the granite headstone. His sister’s hands were small, just like their mother’s. He walked across the grass and touched her shoulder, to take her home.
A Conversation with Kim Edwards about
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a powerful combination of a tragic and poignant family story as well as riveting page-turner, due primarily to the fact that it centers on such a shocking act by one individual that affects everyone he cares about. How did the idea for this novel come to you?
A few months after my story collection, The Secrets of a Fire King, was published, one of the pastors of the Presbyterian church I’d recently joined said she had a story to give me. I was pleased that she’d thought of me, if a bit surprised—I was back in church after a twenty-some-year absence, and still quite skeptical of it all. Yet even to my critical eye it was clear that good things were happening: the congregation was vibrant and progressive and engaged; the co-pastors, a married couple who had both once been university professors, gave sermons that were beautifully crafted and thought-provoking, both intellectual and heartfelt. I’d already come to admire them very much. Still, it happens fairly often that people want to give me stories, and invariably those stories are not mine to tell. So I thanked my pastor, but didn’t think much more about her offer.
The next week she stopped me again. I really have to tell you this story, she said, and she did. It was just a few sentences, about a man who’d discovered, late in life, that his brother had been born with Down’s Syndrome, placed in an institution at birth, and kept a secret from his family, even from his own mother, all his life. He’d died in that institution, unknown. I remember being struck by the story even as she told it, and thinking right away that it really would make a good novel. It was the secret at the center of the family that intrigued me. Still, in the very next heartbeat, I thought: of course, I’ll never write that book. And I didn’t, not for years.
2. Human motivation, the simple question of why we do what we do, is often very complex, as it is here with David and his fateful decision. As his creator, were you able to sympathize in any way with his motives?
Oh, yes, certainly. Even though none of us may ever experience a moment this dramatic, nonetheless we all have similar experiences, times when we react powerfully to an event in ways we may not completely understand until much later, if at all.
I knew from the beginning that David wasn’t an evil person. He makes absolutely the wrong decision in that first chapter, but even so he acts out of what he believes are good intentions—the desire to protect Norah from grief, and even the desire to do what the medical community in that time and place had deemed best for a child with Down’s Syndrome.
There’s much more to this, of course. David’s own grief at the loss of his sister is something he’s never confronted, never resolved. I don’t think this was unusual in that era. Grief counselors, after all, are relatively new. I remember stories, growing up, of adults in my town who had suffered terrible losses. There was a kind of silence around such people. Everyone knew their history, and the imprint of the loss was visible in the unfolding of their lives, but no one ever mentioned the person who had died.
So it was with David. His way of coping with the loss of his sister, and with the greater loss of his family that resulted, was to try to move on; to take control of his life and to push forward; to become a success in the eyes of the world. Yet even so, his grief was never far below the surface, and when Phoebe was born with Down’s Syndrome, an event he could not anticipate or control, his old grief welled up. David’s response in that moment is as much to the past as to the present, but it takes him decades, and a trip back to the place where he grew up, to understand this.
3. The novel begins in 1964. Do you think our attitudes toward people with disabilities have changed since then? Are we more enlightened or accepting now?
Yes, things have changed for the better over the past decades, but I’d say also that it’s an ongoing process, with much more progress yet to be made.
Certainly, writing this novel was a process of enlightenment for me. When I began this book, I didn’t know how to imagine Phoebe. I was compelled by the secret and its impact on the family, but I wasn’t very knowledgeable about Down’s Syndrome. To create a convincing character, one who was herself and not a stereotype, without being either sentimental or patronizing, seemed a daunting task.
I started reading and researching. Also, tentatively, I started having conversations.The first couple I spoke with has a daughter whom they’d raised during the time period of this book.They were a terrific help, candid and straightforward and wise. When I showed them the opening chapter, their immediate response was that I’d gotten the doctor exactly right: the attitudes David has about Down’s Syndrome may seem outrageous to us now, but there was a time, not all that long ago, when these ideas were widely held.
The reason attitudes have changed, quite simply, is because the parents of children with Down’s Syndrome refused, as Caroline does in this novel, to accept imposed limitations for their children. The fight that Caroline fights during this book is emblematic of struggles that took place all over the country during this era to change prevailing attitudes and to open doors that had been slammed shut.
The changes did not and do not happen easily, or without personal costs for those who struggled—and struggle still—to make their children visible to the world. Time and again as I researched this book I heard stories of both heartbreak and great courage. Time and again, also, I was impressed with the expansive generosity of people with Down’s Syndrome and their families, who met with me, shared their life journeys and perceptions, their joys and struggles, and were eager to help me learn. Many of them have read the book and loved it, which for me is a profound measure of its success.
4. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, while ultimately redemptive and hopeful, reveals much of the dark side of the human experience. Actors often talk about how working on a very painful role can affect their psyche; others speak of being able simply to let it go and not have the work affect their daily lives. As a writer, how does working on such a heart-wrenching story affect your own state of mind? When you stop writing, are you able to let it go?
Well, the characters all struggle, don’t they? They walk through a lot of darkness. Yet I never found writing this book painful. In part, I think, because I identified with all the characters in this book: the one who keeps a secret and the one from whom secrets have been kept; the parent who longs for a child and the child who longs for harmony and wholeness; the wanderer and the one who stays in place. I r
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A woman’s homecoming, a family secret and an old house that holds the key to a shocking legacy…
After years abroad, Lucy returns home from Japan. At a crossroads in her life, she is newly haunted by her father’s unresolved death a decade ago. Late one night, as she paces the hallways of her family’s rambling lakeside house, she discovers, locked in a window seat, a collection of objects that first appear to be idle curiosities, but soon reveal a complex family history. Old longings stirred up by her passionate first love soon lead her into the unexpected. And as Lucy discovers and explores the traces of her past, the family story she has always known is shattered – and then dramatically reconfigured, emboldening her to live with a freedom she has never known before.
With surprises at every turn, brimming with vibrant detail, The Lake of Dreams is a gripping and powerful saga that’s sure to enthrall the millions of readers who loved The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.
ALTHOUGH IT IS NEARLY MIDNIGHT, AN UNUSUAL LIGHT SLIPS through a crack in the wool, brushing her arm like the feathers of a wing. In the next room her parents sleep, and the darkened village is silent, but she has lain awake all these hours and now she climbs out of bed, the floorboards rough against her feet. For weeks people have talked of nothing but the comet, how the earth will pass through clouds of poison vapors in its tail, how the world could end. She is fifteen, and all day she and her brother helped seal the house—windows, doors, even the chimney—with thick black wool, hammers tapping everywhere as their neighbors did the same.
The narrow triangle of strange light touches her here, then there, as she crosses the room. She is wearing her blue dress, almost outgrown, the worn cotton soft against her skin. In this room, a low space over the shop that is hers alone, the wool is only loosely fastened to the window, and when she yanks a corner the cloth falls away, pale comet light swimming all around. She pushes the window open and takes a breath: one, and then another, deeper. Nothing happens. No poison gas, no searing lungs—only the watery spring, the scents of growing things and, distantly, the sea.
And this odd light. The constellations are as familiar as the lines on her own palms, so she does not have to search to find the comet. It soars high, a streaming jewel, circling the years, thrilling and portentous. Distantly a dog barks, and the chickens rustle and complain in their coops. Soft voices rise, mingling, her brother’s and another, one she knows; her heart quickens with anger and yearning both. She hesitates. She has not planned this moment—the turning point of her life it will become. Yet it is also no impulse that pulls her onto the window ledge, her bare feet dangling a few yards above the garden. She is dressed, after all. She left the wool loose on purpose. All day she has been dreaming of the comet, its wild and fiery beauty, what it might mean, how her life might change.
The voices rise, and then she leaps.
MY NAME IS LUCY JARRETT, AND BEFORE I KNEW ABOUT THE girl in the window, before I went home and stumbled on the fragments and began to piece the story back together, I found myself living in a village near the sea in Japan. It had been a spring of little earthquakes, and that night I woke abruptly, jarred from a dream. Footsteps faded in the cobblestone lane and distant trains rumbled; I listened harder until I could make out the surge of the sea. But that was all. Yoshi’s hand rested on my hip lightly, as if we were still dancing, which we’d been doing earlier in the evening, music from the radio soft in the dark kitchen, our steps slowing until we stopped altogether and stood kissing in the jasmine air.
I lay back down, curving toward his warmth. In the dream I’d gone back to the lake where I’d grown up. I didn’t want to go, but I did. The sky was overcast, the faded green cabin—which I’d seen before, but only in dreams—musty and overhung with trees. Its windows were cracked, opaque with dust and snow. I walked past it to the shore, walked out onto the thick, translucent ice. I walked until I came to them. So many people, living their lives just beneath the surface. I caught them in glimpses, fell to my knees, pressed my palms against the glassy surface—so thick, so clear, so cold. I’d put them here, somehow, I knew that. I’d left them for so long. Their hair stirred in underwater currents, and their eyes, when they met mine, were full of a longing that matched my own.
The window shades were trembling. I tensed, caught between the earthquakes and the dream, but it was just a distant train, fading into the mountains. Every night for a week I’d had this same dream, stirred up by the shifting earth, stirring up the past. It took me back to a night when I was seventeen, wild and restless, sliding off the back of Keegan Fall’s motorcycle, apple blossoms as pale as stars above us. I fanned my fingers against his chest before he left, the engine ripping through the night. My father was in the garden when I turned toward the house. Moonlight caught the gray in his short hair; the tip of his cigarette burned, rising, falling. Lilacs and early roses floated in the darkness. Nice of you to show up, my father said. I’m sorry you worried, I told him. A silence, the scents of lake water and compost and green shoots splitting open the dark earth, and then he said, Want to go fishing with me, Lucy? How about it? It’s been a long time. His words were wistful, and I remembered getting up before dawn to meet him, struggling to carry the tackle box as we crossed the lawn to the boat. I wanted to go fishing, to accept my father’s invitation, but I wanted more to go upstairs to think about Keegan Fall. So I turned away, and in a tone as sharp as broken shells I said, Dad. Really. I’m hardly little anymore.
Those were the last words I ever spoke to him. Hours later, waking to sunlight and urgent voices, I ran downstairs and across the dew-struck lawn to the shore, where they had pulled my father from the lake. My mother was kneeling in the shallow water, touching his cheek with her fingertips. His lips and skin were bluish. There were traces of foam in the corner of his mouth, and his eyelids were oddly iridescent. Like a fish, I thought, a crazy thought, but at least it silenced the other thoughts, which were worse, and which have never left me: If I’d gone. If I’d been there. If only I’d said yes.
Beside me on the tatami Yoshi sighed and stirred, his hand slipping from my hip. Moonlight fell in a rectangle across the floor, and the shades rustled faintly with the distant pounding surf, the breeze. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the shaking grew stronger. It was subtle at first, as soft as the rumble from the train a moment before. Then my Tibetan singing bowls, arranged on the floor, began to hum all by themselves. My collection of small stones began to fall from the bookshelf, hitting the mats with a sound like rain. Downstairs, something crashed, shattered. I held my breath, as if by being still I could still the world, but the trembling grew stronger, and stronger still. The shelves lurched sharply, heaving several books to the floor. Then, in one fluid convulsion, the walls swayed and the floor seemed to roll, as if some great animal had roused and turned, as if the earth itself were alive, the ground mere skin, and volatile.
Abruptly, it stopped. Everything was strangely quiet. Distantly, water dripped into a pool. Yoshi’s breathing was calm and even.
I turned and shook his shoulder. He opened his eyes slowly. These little earthquakes left him unfazed, though that season there had been hundreds of tremors, sometimes several dozen in a day, many so tiny they were noted only by seismic machines; others, like this one, strong enough to wake us.
“Earthquake?” he murmured.
“Really? Well, it is over now. It’s quiet, no? Let’s go back to sleep.”
He closed his eyes and pulled me close. His breathing quickly grew deep and regular again. Through the half-open window, beyond the roof of the house across the street, I glimpsed the scattered stars. “Yoshi?” I said. When he didn’t answer, I slid out of bed and went downstairs.
The aloe plant had fallen from the kitchen windowsill, and its pot had shattered. I put water on to boil and swept up the scattered dirt and glass and broken stems. Probably Japanese housewives were doing the same thing all up and down the street, which made me feel uncomfortable and faintly bitter—clearly, I’d been without a job for far too long. I didn’t like being dependent on Yoshi, having no income or meaningful work outside the house. I’m a hydrologist, which is to say that I study the movement of water in the world, on the surface and beneath the earth, and I’d been doing research for multinational companies for nearly half a decade by the time I met Yoshi in Jakarta. We’d fallen in love the way it is possible to fall in love overseas, cut off from everything we’d known, so the country we inhabited was of our own making, really, and subject to our own desires. This is the only continent that matters, Yoshi used to say, running his hands along my body. This is the only world that exists. For a year, then two years, we were very happy. Then our contracts ended. Before I found work, Yoshi was offered what seemed at first like the engineering job of his dreams. That’s when we moved to Japan, which had turned out to be another country altogether.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes