Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Coincidence of Choice

My daughter and I drove to Chicago and back last weekend. She likes to watch DVDs in the car during the drive, but because the car can get a little noisy, she prefers to wear headphones to listen to them. This leaves me driving with no one to talk to. Each time this happens, I curse myself for not thinking ahead and getting a book on CD from my library. This time, I did plan ahead, and while I could not get anything on my TBR list, at least I could get one of the books that was in my nightstand waiting for me to get to it, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards.

A couple summers ago, everyone was reading Memory Keeper, but for some reason, I didn't. Now I was able to listen to it, and by coincidence, I am also reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. What's so coincidental about that? I was surprised by the number of ways that the two stories are similar. At first, I kept getting the two books confused, as both husbands came from poor families, but different states. Then both wives had affairs. The most blatant overlap between the two books, however, is how the Berglunds, the husband and wife in Freedom, and the Henrys, the husband and wife in Memory Keeper, are all intelligent people, very capable of doing the right thing, but instead, they each make horrendous decisions that eventually tear their families apart. Both Freedom and Memory Keeper focus more on the son (both families have two children, one son, one daughter), and he also makes some bad choices. Additionally, the stories are shaped by outsiders, Richard, in Freedom, and Caroline, in Memory Keeper, who influence the family dynamic through questionable decisions that they make.

While I have not finished Freedom yet, my hunch is that in the end, I will find Memory Keeper to be more morally redeeming. In Memory Keeper, Caroline raises a baby with downs syndrome, and is a fierce advocate for her. That is something close to my heart, and I could appreciate that Caroline was working so hard for the baby, Phoebe, when she could have taken a much easier way out. At the end of the novel, the Henrys make the conscious decision to choose understanding over hate, and it seems likely that understanding will soon give way to love. I am questioning whether the Berglunds are mature enough to make that same choice.

Still Reading: Freedom The book group meeting is tonight, and I still have 120 pages to go. Ugh! I cannot get through this book!

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