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Book news: "Fresh Kills," revisiting "The Memory Keeper's Daughter"

September 2, 2008 |  4:27 pm

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The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner has been chosen and is now in print: "Fresh Kills" is a thriller set on Staten Island. Author Bill Loehfelm is a New York native, but he wrote the novel in his adopted home city of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife chose to stay in the city, although their plans had changed. "I went back to work on 'Fresh Kills'," he writes; it started out as "a dark, angry novella."

The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction in New York has announced the shortlist for its $10,000 first- novel prize. The seven novels are: "Atmospheric Disturbances" by Rivka Galchen, "Dervishes" by Beth Helms, "The Good Thief" by Hannah Tinti, "Songs for the Butcher's Daughter" by Peter Manseau, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski, "The Story of Forgetting" by Stefan Merrill Block and "Personal Days" by LA Times Web columnist Ed Park.

Now that readers have gobbled up Sarah Palin's biography in an effort to understand McCain's running mate, those who are still curious may have to turn to fiction to figure her out (especially if the campaign keeps canceling her appearances). A good place to start might be 2005's "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards, which deals with the choice to raise -- or not raise -- a child with Down syndrome. From the Washington Post review:

The book opens during a snowstorm in Lexington, Ky., in 1964, when Norah Henry realizes that she's going into labor. The weather keeps her doctor from making it to the office in time, but her husband, David, is an orthopedic surgeon with enough experience to handle the situation. Under the partial influence of gas, Norah gives birth to a healthy baby boy, but as David tells her the happy news, another series of contractions begins. He quickly sedates his wife again, and she gives birth to another child, a girl with Down syndrome.

"Later," Edwards writes, "when he considered this night -- and he would think of it often, in the months and years to come: the turning point of his life, the moments around which everything else would always gather -- what he remembered was the silence in the room and the snow falling outside." In that quiet, terrifying moment, the grief and resentment caused by his sister's death at the age of 12 washes back over him, and he acts to preserve their vision of a happy future. He hands the baby to his nurse and asks her to take it to a home outside the city for handicapped children. When Norah awakens a few minutes later, he tells her their second baby was stillborn. "He had wanted to spare her," Edwards writes, "to protect her from loss and pain; he had not understood that loss would follow her regardless, as persistent and life-shaping as a stream of water. Nor had he anticipated his own grief, woven with the dark threads of his past."

When it debuted earlier this year, the TV movie of "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" got the Lifetime network its best ratings in a decade. For those who've already read the novel, which was a paperback bestseller, the movie will broadcast on Lifetime again September 13.

Carolyn Kellogg

Photo of Staten Island by 708718 via Flickr

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