Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Review: Still Alice

A few years ago, my girl Christy bought me a copy of Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I knew about the novel's protagonist Alice having Alzheimer's disease and put off reading the book for the same reason Christy bought it for me: my grandma has Alzheimer's disease, and I don't always handle it well.

I picked up Still Alice the other night, though, and devoured it in one sitting. Great read. The Harvard-educated Genova has a doctorate in neuroscience and weaves a thoroughly believable tale. It's genius, really: she writes from a third-person point of view (and I guess, realistically: the first-person POV of an Alzheimer's patient would require writing the same sentence over and over) but manages to focus almost entirely on Alice's perspective as the disease steals her mind.

Having witnessed the progression of Alzheimer's disease, I'll say: Genova writes its stages spot on, and--for that reason, also her incorporation of scientific facts and research--I consider this book an educational tool. I will say that (in order to keep the ball rolling) she took Alice down fairly quickly, and those of us who have loved ones with the disease know: it doesn't always (if ever) work that way. The slow progression of the disease (while, in many cases, the body continues to function well) can easily be its most challenging aspect.

My only other criticism of the novel is purely personal: the most tragic thing about Alice's diagnosis--because of who Alice is, a professor of psychology at Harvard--is the loss of her abilities to work: not the devastation of her family. She and her husband retain, clearly, a high degree of admiration and respect for one another, but the stale quality of their marriage precedes Alice's diagnosis. Their three children are grown, and, for the most part, Genova doesn't show us their pain, although Alice's historically troubled relationship with the youngest child yields the two most touching scenes in the novel.

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