I got into audiobooks last summer, and since then, I always have a book going in the car for my (sadly short) commute to work. I generally pick up audiobooks at the library or at used book sales, and I never listen to an audiobook unless I have access to the paper version as well, so that I can re-read passages that stood out to me and make sure I didn't miss anything. Usually I pick audiobooks that are also sitting on my TBR list at home, or I borrow the paper version from the library.
If an audiobook says "abridged" on it anywhere, I pass. I don't want to listen to an edited version of a book – I want to listen to the book exactly as the author intended. For some reason, I abandoned that policy a few weeks ago when I saw the audio version of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards, at a book sale. It was abridged, but the cover said that the edits were with the author's consent, so I figured it was probably fine, right?
Wrong. I started the audio, got about 2 discs in, and then browsed the paper version and found that there were plot points, passages, and entire characters left out of the audio version. That was it. I ejected the second disc, put the whole set away, and started the book over again in paper. I have learned my lesson – never again! (BTW, I just looked on Amazon and I think there is an unabridged audio version of The Memory Keeper's Daughter available as well. I had no idea. The one I bought was read by Martha Plimpton. I didn't love her narration – her voice is aggressive and formal and made the the portion that I listened to sound angry.)
So, on to my review of the book.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a 400-page book that hinges entirely on one night that occurs in the first chapter. David Henry, a Kentucky doctor, delivers his own twins in the middle of a blizzard. His first child, a son, is healthy, and his second child, a daughter, is born with the unmistakable signs of Down's Syndrome. David makes a split-second decision – he asks his nurse Caroline to take the baby girl to an institution, hoping to spare his wife Norah the grief of raising a daughter who is not likely to live long. Caroline decides to keep the baby (Phoebe), and David tells Norah that Phoebe died.
Thus two parallel stories follow – how David and Norah fare in the aftermath of his unthinkable lie, and how Caroline manages with a newborn who is not her own and who faces a lifetime of challenges. This a pretty sad book, but the story of these people, and the lies they keep from each other, is a compelling one. Kim Edwards is a good storyteller, full of compassion for her characters and skill in threading four different perspectives into a moving story.
I also liked the history lessons inherent in the book. Phoebe and her brother Paul are born in the early 60s, and The Memory Keeper's Daughter concludes in the late 80s. Edwards takes on the evolving role of women over those decades, particularly, as well as changing attitudes toward mentally handicapped children.
I am going light on the plot here, because there are a lot of secrets and twists in the book that I don't want to give away. However, there was a point in the book – about 2/3 of the way through – where Edwards went astray. Her characters had been very consistent, and then a few of them went off the tracks and did some really random stuff that felt unnatural.
I can also see why the audiobook producers felt the urge to abridge – this book could really have used some editing. There was a lot of repetition and too much explanation of the characters' feelings about each other. Not too much subtlety and very little left to the reader's own interpretation.
That said, it's a great premise, and I am glad I read the book. And I have learned my lesson about abridgements – never again!
Everyone else in the world read this book years ago – please weigh in and let me know what you thought.