February 15, 2015 5 Comments
I’ve only read two books to myself in the past month, but I’ve been reading to both of my kids, too, and looking at some floor-plan books, so here are two book reviews in each category.
Books I read to myself:
- The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards begins during a snowstorm in 1964, when Norah and David’s child is about to be born. They can’t get to the hospital, but luckily David is a doctor, and his nurse Caroline is able to meet them at the clinic and administer anesthetic that makes Norah semi-conscious during the birth (as was the style at the time). Baby Paul is perfect, but he’s followed by a twin sister whom David immediately recognizes as having Down Syndrome. He directs Caroline to take the baby girl to an institution, and then he tells Norah that their daughter died at birth. He wants to spare his family the pain of raising a disabled child, but Norah is devastated by the loss, and it affects their family life forever. Meanwhile, Caroline finds the institution unbearable and decides to move to another city and raise Phoebe (giving her the name Norah had said she would give her daughter) as her own child. The plot then unfolds over 25 years. This is my favorite kind of book, about people who seem very real getting into interesting situations and having feelings that make sense even if you, the reader, would react differently. Almost every moment has a vivid clarity. I also love the depiction of Pittsburgh, where Caroline raises Phoebe, because that’s where I live and I’m familiar with their neighborhood and the other places they go. This book was just as good the second time around as when I first read it several years ago, but I’m glad I waited to reread it until my own daughter was safely born–stories of birth defects and complications are not ideal pregnancy reading!
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Just when I think nothing new can be done with the structure of novels, something like this comes along! Ursula is born in 1910 and dies without taking a breath. Ursula is born in 1910 and drowns at the seashore when she’s five years old. Ursula is born in 1910, has a terrible feeling of foreboding at the seashore when she’s five years old, and then at age eight ventures onto the icy roof, after her brother throws her doll out the attic window, and falls to her death. Ursula is born in 1910 and at age eight hides her doll under the pillow, but then she catches the Spanish flu…. It’s like a time-travel story, except it’s always the same stretch of time; what matters is what she does with it and what else happens, the effects of the proverbial butterfly fluttering its wings. WARNINGS: Some of Ursula’s lives are pretty grim, even graphically horrifying. The nature of the story is going to force you to think about all the ways a little girl could die. But if you can handle it, this is a fascinating book! I especially like the points when the cumulative effects of Ursula’s multiple lives come almost to the surface of her consciousness–which in some of the timestreams gets her sent to a psychoanalyst who is hilariously clueless about how to talk to a child!