Monday, July 27, 2009

Review - Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

published 01/09
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

What if every memory you've ever had will be erased from your mind, and you have no choice but to carry on...powerless to stop it?

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life -- and her relationship with her family and the world -- forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, this extraordinary debut novel by Lisa Genova is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.

My thoughts:

When I was in college, I spent a year and a half working for a company that provided in-home care to elderly clients. One of my clients was Miriam, a woman in her 70s with Alzheimer's disease. She was frustrating. She and her husband lived in an assisted living facility, and she didn't want to be there. She would ask about every 5 minutes when we would let her go home. Her husband, unable to cope with the situation, spent every moment of the day locked (literally) in their second bedroom, doing who knows what. I wish I had read this book before I cared for Miriam.

Lisa Genova's look into the life of Alice is honest and heartbreaking. She shows Alice's frustrations, fears, and small triumphs. She portrays the decline into dementia with a clarity that is breathtaking. It literally happens before your eyes - Alice's moment to moment grasp of who and what is around her can change in an instant, and Genova allows readers a glimpse of how frightening that must truly be.

"Alice knew that the young woman sitting across from her was her daughter, but she had a disturbing lack of confidence in this knowledge. She knew that she had a daughter named Lydia, but when she looked at the young woman sitting across from her, knowing that she was her daughter Lydia was more academic knowledge than implicit understanding, a fact she agreed to, information she'd been given and accepted as true."

Her insight into how devastating this disease is for families is also keen. While the story is told from Alice's point of view, she recounts conversations heard around her - while her family talks about her, "in front of her, without including her..." - that show the strain and confusion caring for a family member with Alzheimer's can bring. Her family does the best they can, but they aren't perfect - sometimes they are tired, stressed, scared, impatient - all emotions that ring true in such a difficult situation.

Of course, Alice is the centerpiece, and her voice is strong and vibrant. When she muses that she wished she had cancer, because then at least there would be something to fight, she broke my heart. Her pain at watching her career become unmanageable, her love for her family, and her fight to retain what little of her life she can control - all these little moments equal an unforgettable portrait of a woman losing her life, piece by piece.

"Accepting the fact that she did indeed have Alzheimer's, that she could only back on two unacceptably effective drugs available to treat it, and that she couldn't trade any of this in for some other, curable disease, what did she want? Assuming the in vitro procedure worked, she wanted to live to hold Anna's baby and know it was her grandchild. She wanted to see Lydia act in something she was proud of. She wanted to see Tom fall in love. She wanted one more sabbatical year with John. She wanted to read every book she could before she could no longer read."

It is almost inevitable that at some point in our lives, we will care for someone who will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Still Alice gives an honest, compelling account of what that journey could be like for the person we love. I think it could change the way we live with and love those people in our lives. I highly recommend you find a copy of this beautiful, heartbreaking novel.

Finished: 7/11/09
Source: Franklin Avenue Library
Rating: 9/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Books on the Brain
At Home with Books

This book counts toward:


ANovelMenagerie said...

What a great review. I thought it was written beautifully.

My review of the same book posted on Saturday. I didn't care for it as much as you did. I think you had a much stronger connection with the subject.

Great review, again.


Diane said...

Fantastic review. I LOVED this book. I really stayed with me even though I read it about a year ago.

bermudaonion said...

I know this book will be an emotional read since it covers such a difficult topic, but I still want to read it. Great review.

LisaMM said...

Great review, and I totally agree with you. Heartbreaking, honest, beautiful.. yep, all those things. I loved it. It was such an emotional read. Thanks for linking my review to yours!

The Journal of Cultural Conversation said...

Love your review and perspective on this! I have also read it - and what's amazing is that Lisa originally self-published it and then it was picked up by the big publishers. Fantastic inspiration for all of us!

- Laura

Zibilee said...

This book sounds so heartbreaking that I don't know if I could get through it. I think your review was beautiful and thoughtful, but I am not sure if I could deal with so much sadness right now. Maybe it would work for me at another time. Thanks for the great review though.

Zibilee said...

This book sounds so heartbreaking that I don't know if I could get through it. I think your review was beautiful and thoughtful, but I am not sure if I could deal with so much sadness right now. Maybe it would work for me at another time. Thanks for the great review though.

Aarti said...

This is a wonderful review. Thanks for putting so much thought into it!

Jenners said...

I've heard great things about this book. It sounds just heart-breaking -- Alzheimer's is such a cruel cruel disease. I think I will have to read this someday. Great review.