Saturday, Jul 25, 2009
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Pocket Books
Simon & Schuster
ISBN #: 978-1-4391-0281-7
Pages: 293 Trade Paperback
Published: January 6, 2009
Purchase: $10.20 @ Amazon (HERE)
The Book’s Synopsis
“Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University. Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away.”
(Excerpt is from www.stillalice.com)
My Thoughts & Review
This is a book club selection for July 2009, so it was interesting to discover what new book we’d be discussing. I knew that Still Alice was regarding a woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s, but not much beyond that.
As I read this novel, I learned that is written from Alice’s perspective. Although there have been several books written about Alzheimer’s by the caregivers and families of those who have suffered from this mind-destroying disease, I can’t recall ever hearing about a book written from the viewpoint of the patient. In this novel, Alice has early on-set Alzheimer’s which is a rapid and progressive disease that ravages her mind. The reader gets to meet Alice when she is just beginning to suffer from the symptoms, therefore we can understand her personality before she fell ill.
The book then takes you along the road with Alice describing how this malady destroys her memories and ability to function naturally. For example, at one point in the progression of her disease, she needs to go to the restroom. However, she forgets that is the reason that she went in the house to do. When she gets lost in the house and can’t remember which door is the one to the downstairs bathroom, her husband comes in and discovers that she has wet herself. She crumbles and cries. It was heartbreaking.
Another tender moment is when Alice’s family gives her their birthday gifts. They had filmed interviews with her kids & her husband telling stories of their past with Alice so that she may watch them and be reminded of her past, who she is, and her life. For a while the DVD’s help, but her disease takes hold so fast that soon they do not help her.
Another memorable part of the book is when Alice delivers a very moving speech to a large group of doctors, researchers, and interest groups on Alzheimer’s. Being a professor, she had given speeches on the human mind before, but never one like this expose of her personal psyche.
For me, the saddest part of the novel was when she became a grandmother for the first time and didn’t quite know who everybody in the room was. Despite feeling welcomed and loved, she didn’t understand that the mother of the babies was, in fact, her daughter.
So… did I like Still Alice? Yes, and no. The beginning of the book didn’t grab a hold of me straight away. It took me considerable time to really connect with Alice and come to understand her. After I read well into the middle of the book, I found a much faster pace of reading and desire to read-on about how far along the disease had progressed within Alice. The last few chapters of the book, by far, were the best part of the novel for me.
And… would I recommend this book? I would give it a positive recommendation in the event that I knew that there was interest about the actual disease, itself. For example, for somebody who has this illness in their family, this would be a good book to share with them. Otherwise, I would not recommend this book based on my opinion of the subject matter. And, it’s hard to describe exactly why. Let me try.
In other books which shared stories of tragedy, I’ve walked away from them just blown away about what I’ve read. Take for example, The Glass Castle or Angela’s Ashes… each had a tremendously sad story. But, their endings left me holding hope. This book, however, ends on a sad note in which the reader knows what Alice’s outcome is going to be. Further, the reader understands that there is no known cure for this heartbreaking diagnosis. There is no potential for a good ending with this book.
But… I did learn quite a bit from reading this novel and I believe that it brought me a greater understanding of just how Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the mind. My grandmother suffered greatly from dementia in her later years. It was difficult to hear her discuss the men who were living up in the attic or the swarms of the little bugs that were supposedly all over her house. Far greater a sorrow for us all is when nobody could manage to continue to take care of her and we had to put her in an assisted living, care facility. I remember her decline and how her long term memory was so crystal clear whereas her short term memories were completely erased at times. It was hard witnessing the decline and, after reading Still Alice, I can only imagine how much harder it was for her than it was for us.
There is a wealth of benefits of reading a book that provides such considerable enlightenment on this topic, and for those benefits it was worth the read. Despite my rather average opinion of this book, this was a New York Times Bestseller and has received glowing reviews. It, perhaps, just wasn’t the right topic and right timing for me.