In classic page-turner fashion, The Memory Keeper's Daughter opens on a dark and snowy night, with a fateful childbirth, the implications of which resonate over the next 20 years of secrets and lies, joys and sorrows.

Lifetime chose well in adapting Kim Edwards' best-seller, which tells the best kind of what-would-you-do yarn. If the TV-movie is more labored and less affecting than the emotionally taut novel, it's ultimately satisfying and is just the sort of high-end tearjerker Lifetime should continue making.

The story's irresistible hook comes early, as Dr. David Henry (Dermot Mulroney) is forced by weather and fate to deliver his own wife's baby, a "perfect" son. But there's a surprise twin: a girl with Down syndrome — this being 1964, he calls her a "mongoloid" — and he's so appalled he orders his adoring nurse, Caroline (Emily Watson), to whisk her to an asylum, telling wife Norah (Gretchen Mol) that Baby Phoebe died.

This lie haunts and threatens to wreck their marriage, as David retreats behind his "Memory Keeper" camera, and neglected Norah fills the void any way she can. Meanwhile, Caroline takes Phoebe as her own and raises her in a different state.

The story unfolds on parallel tracks, jumping years between acts. In the book, you could fill in the gaps with your imagination. As a movie, it often feels sketchy, almost as if (borrowing David's obvious camera metaphor) we were getting mere snapshots of these lives.

Still, the glamorous Mol and the earthy Watson make the most of their juicy roles, while Mulroney settles for mopey pouting, his torment coming off like indigestion. The memory keeper may be forgettable, but the family tragedy he sets in motion is anything but.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter airs Monday, April 14, at 9 pm/ET, Lifetime.

Walt Whitman 

It makes poetic sense for Walt Whitman to get the full American Experience treatment, because few writers experienced America more fully than the author of Leaves of Grass. Condemned at first, his masterpiece is now renowned for its robust sensuality and its celebration of the promise of a then-young country in danger of being destroyed by civil war.

This artfully enthralling biography, with readings by actor Chris Cooper as Whitman, captures the pulse and allure of a nation and a man in a constant state of invention.

Whitman broke many of society's and poetry's rules, prompting the eminent Ralph Waldo Emerson to call him "American to the bone." Scholars and admiring contemporary poets revel in his eventful life, but Walt Whitman is at its most transcendent as it recounts his ministering to maimed soldiers in Civil War hospitals.

Walt Whitman airs Monday, April 14, PBS; check tvguide.com.