Focusing on the Flaws

Last week my book group discussed The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards.  This is a book that has been extremely popular with discussion groups from the moment it was published, and I started off the discussion by asking our members why they thought it had such a strong appeal.  Their answer:  because the characters are all deeply flawed, and as readers we especially respond to stories about ordinary people who make the wrong decisions.

I felt there were some flaws, too, in the plotting of the novel, but no one was willing to take me up on that idea.  Everyone in the group wanted to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in this tale of a doctor who doesn’t realize his wife is carrying twins, ends up having to deliver the babies himself because of another doctor’s car accident in the midst of a heavy snowfall, decides in a split second to institutionalize the second child because she is born with Down syndrome ( thinking he will be sparing his wife psychological pain and suffering) and asks his nurse to take the child to the institution (without consulting his wife, of course, who is still recovering from the delivery) — and naturally, the nurse consents (because she is secretly in love with the doctor), but later keeps the child to raise for herself because she disapproves of the institution the doctor has chosen.

My readers didn’t find any of this at all far fetched.  They confessed they couldn’t wait to turn the page and find out what was going to happen next.  They didn’t like the doctor, had some sympathy for the wife, who mourns her lost child throughout the book and winds up a poor mother to the child she does raise, and showed some interest toward the nurse, too, but really wished there’d been more about the title character, who isn’t actually the protagonist the way everyone expected she would be.

Kim Edwards has an expressive style that appealed to the group, and the members agreed they were looking forward to her next book.  So even though she spun a somewhat incredible tale, my readers were more than willing to respond to it and talk about her characters and their dilemmas.  I suspect it’s the same story around the country:  yes, there may be flaws aplenty here, but they sure are fun to discuss!

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "Focusing on the Flaws"

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  1. ckubala@columbiactlibrary.org' CarolK says:

    I’m with you Ted. I had lots of problems with plot on this one. I did find the story entertaining, but only if I did suspend belief, but didn’t find myself hastily turning pages. Person after person kept singing its praises and I truly thought there might be something wrong with me. Then, our senior center group picked it for discussion. I thought, oh boy, now’s here’s a group that will tear it apart. Wrong! They loved it. However, the discussion was lively and they substantiated their points about plot quite well. I came away with a different view after listening to them. They come from a simpler time. One, a nurse, talked about babies with defects being kept from mothers. Hospitals, doctors, nurses were different not all that long ago.
    I still find some parts hard to swallow but have a better understanding of why it appeals.
    This is why I love book discussion so much. Discussion opens my mind to new thoughts and feelings and gives me a viewpoint beyond my own.

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