I've been reading over the posts this morning and wanted to reply, but I
can't seem to log in to be allowed to do that. So, I'm just going to
write some thoughts and hope you'll be able to post them as part of the
conversation. I really appreciate so much all the comments and thoughtful observations people have made about The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I especially LOVED the idea that the secret became a character too--that's one perception I had never heard before, but I think it's really true. The secret has its own life and it changes everyone else's life in this story.
I was initially drawn to this idea because of the secret, in fact. And
yet I didn't think I'd ever write this book, because I didn't know
anything about Down syndrome and I wasn't sure I could write a character who was realistically and sympathetically portrayed without being sentimentalized. So I didn't do anything with this idea for several
years, not until I was invited to do a writing workshop with a group of
adults with various kinds of mental challenges. I went, not knowing what
to expect, and we had a wonderful day. I really enjoyed the group, and
they made a very strong impression on me.
So I started thinking about this book idea again. And I started, very
tentatively, asking questions of parents who had raised or were raising
children with DS. I want to tell your group how scared I was to do this.
I was really afraid of saying the wrong thing, and of intruding on an
aspect of life I didn't know anything about. And I am so appreciative of
those people who so generously spoke to me and who were so patient with my questions.
I didn't start this book with any sort of agenda. I think as an artist
you can't go into a work with a political stance, or you'll force the
characters to do what you want rather than to let them take on their own
lives. Yet at the same time, the more I talked to people, the more
important it became to me to create a realistic and sympathetic character
in Phoebe--an individual, not a stereotype. I deliberately didn't get too
close to any individual with DS while researching, but I tried to watch
closely and read a great deal so that as Phoebe came to life she would seem real and three dimensional and convincing.
The most anxious moments of finishing this book were when I sent it to the parents who had helped me to see what they thought about what I'd written. (This was more nerve-wracking than sending the manuscript to publishers!) I really held my breath on that. It was such a wonderful affirmation when they began to call to say that they liked it.
The novel really is fiction: I've been married for almost 19 years, and I
don't have any personal experience with adoption. Though I think adoption is a really important consideration in this book, and I think that
Caroline is certainly complicit in the secret, too, even though she acts
more heroically than David.
As for David, I found him sympathetic, stuck in that grief over the loss
of his sister, shaped by attitudes toward both Down syndrome and toward
grieving that were common at the time. I didn't admire what he did, but I
didn't think he was evil. Some readers wish that he had lived to face the
consequences of his actions, but my own feeling is that the secret
burdened him deeply all his life. And sometimes, in life, you just run
out of time to do the thing you always mean to do. I was surprised, in fact, when the story took that direction--I didn't plot it out. But it seemed natural and right to this story, once it happened.
In the end, I think being a parent myself was what I drew on most in
Thanks so much to all who wrote in. I'd be happy to answer more
questions, if they come up. And I have a website at
if people want to read more.