Monday, January 21, 2013

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

It was hard to read this without thinking of my dad who died six years ago in the full throes of dementia. His mental decline was heartbreaking to witness and I wish now that I had spent more time with him, whether he was aware of what was going on, or who I was, or not. Somehow it all just seemed too emotionally difficult, you know? And on some delusional level, I figured he'd always be there and that there would always be a *next time* to make up for not really being present *this time*. Ugh. I should have known better. At the time all I wanted was my old dad back. I still do.

Still Alice is well researched story from the point of view of a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. I appreciated this aspect of the book because one never really knows what it's like to be inside an Alzheimer's sufferer since it is such a relentlessly progressive degenerative disease. Once they succumb they can no longer communicate in any deep or meaningful way with those around them. In Still Alice, we get a window into Alice's perceptions and thinking; the frustrations and early denial are palpable. And then, towards the end, there is a sense of resignation in her and her family, and sadness, mainly just from her family as Alice, by this point is unaware of much of what is going on. There is no way around this disease, no cure, no way through it other than to just accept what is. All very frustrating for us who like to have answers and some semblance of control.

This is a good and important book, but I did have a few problems with the details. Like, Alice just happens to be a Harvard cognitive psychology professor, an expert in the very area of her own brain that has fallen ill? Seems pretty convenient to me. And why do there have to be such hard-core professionals in a story like this? Not only professionals, but *Harvard* professionals. It's almost like the author is trying to make Alzheimer's seem much more tragic because these people are Professors! Doctors! Lawyers! And, oh yes, one misunderstood aspiring actress thrown in there to keep it *real*. I don't know. Maybe I'm being petty but it's stock details like these that irk me about contemporary fiction.

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 on linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life - and her relationship with her family and the world - forever.
At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of like with early-onset Alzheimer's disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People. (back cover)

9 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved this story - so sad but good. It almost seemed like non fiction to me.

Trish said...

Yes, I wondered about classifying it also as non-fiction as there is so much relevant information in the story.

Daisy said...

I lost my Dad to Parkinsons and Alzheimers and experienced some of the same things you did. I haven't read this book, but it would be hard to do so without thinking of my Dad and his particular situation. So now I'm torn between wanting to read this and not wanting to read it because I'd rather not relive the experience of losing someone to this disease. It does sound interesting, though.

raisingahappyfamily-momof8 said...

how timely this books sounds! I think everyone knows a loved one with Alzheimer's...and the tragic effects on everyone...
thanks for the review!
I am your newest follower...stuck reading Moby Dick too long...pls follow back if you can.

Trish said...

Daisy - it took me a long time to pick this up for that same reason. I didn't think I wanted to relive that episode in my life again. I'm glad I finally read it, though.

Mom8 - Moby Dick! You're brave. I don't think I have what it takes to even pick that up. Thanks for the follow. I'll come by for a visit soon :)

JoAnn said...

I picked this up at a library book sale in hopes of convincing my book club to read it - no luck yet, but I hope to get to it soon anyway. Thanks for the great review.

Trish said...

JoAnn - It would be a great book for discussions. Hopefully you'll be able to convince them soon.

Nan said...

Maybe they are high-power Harvard folks to show 'the rest of us' that this disease spares no one. Even the brilliant, even the ones whose field is the brain. The most recent thing I heard the other day is that the best preventative is to speak a few languages.
Tom's father was quite intelligent and at the end his entertainment was watching Ugly Betty.

Trish said...

Nan - oh yes, I'm sure that's true. It all just felt a little too pat in the story. I hope there will be more exposure to the effects of this disease in future books. As mom-of-8 commented, probably everyone knows someone who's been touched by Alzheimer's.