May 17, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

My mom's bookclub read Still Alice earlier in the year and she gave it a strong recommendation. And now I'm writing to give it my own hearty endorsement.

The story follows Alice Howland, a well-respected Harvard professor in her early fifties. Her children are all out of the house and, with her husband also a successful Harvard professor, she is really set to continue her rise as a brilliant researcher, teacher, and speaker.

Except, she starts to notice that she's becoming a bit forgetful. At first it's just a word here or there that she cannot find, and then it's information that her husband or co-workers have just given her, but when she finds herself completely lost a mile from her home during a routine afternoon run, she starts to become a little nervous.

For a while, she convinces herself it's just menopausal symptoms, but when she goes in for a check-up and mentions losing all context during her run, the doctor suggests some follow-up appointments and before long, she's diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

This is such devastating news that at first she can't stand to tell anyone, not even her husband. How can she accept that everything she cares about in her life - her work, her family, even herself - will, within a few years, be completely gone.

Whew, this is not an easy book - it is just so heartbreaking to watch her slide more and more into the disease. And of course, as the reader, you know from the beginning that it's Alzheimer's, and it is just unstoppable.


It's wrenching, too, to watch her family deal with it. Her husband, at first, is just convinced it must be a wrong diagnosis and once he does recognize that this is a fact of life he'll need to deal with, he throws himself into finding anything that might delay or stop the progression of the disease. Her children all deal with it in their own ways - since it is a genetic disease (when it's early-onset), her children can be tested for it. Two choose to be, but one feels that she'd rather not know if her mother's future is her own future.

Other people have commented on how paranoid you feel when you read this book, and I felt a little of that too. It's hard not to lose your keys and think, "Am I sinking into a mental illness?" and when Alice reads a checklist, early on, for a caregiver to fill out about the patient's abilities (bodily functions, word use, basic skills, etc), it seems impossible to her that she, someone who is so capable, will someday be reduced to those levels.

I loved the audio version of this (read by the author, which I always enjoy if the author is a halfway decent reader); listening to it, rather than reading it on a page made me feel even more connected to Alice, like I was really in her head, experiencing the devastating loss of her abilities. It just felt so real.

I am really glad to know more about Alzheimer's - it's been a disease I haven't had much experience with at all - and I thought this book handled it extremely well. I read some reviews that talked about the clunky writing, but if it was, I never noticed it. This is a fantastic read. 

Audiobook checked out from the library

11 comments:

  1. Sounds like a good read. My Mother inlaw was talking about her daughter reading it last time she visited and said she definately does NOT want to read it. Too sad. but I think I'll check if the library has it today.

    Janssen, I was wondering if you have reviewed the Hunger Games series and I have just missed it (I've been sporadic in my following!)Could you link me to your thoughts on those books?
    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Sure!

      Book 1: http://everydayreading.blogspot.com/2008/08/hunger-games-suzanne-collins.html
      Book 2: http://everydayreading.blogspot.com/2009/07/catching-fire-by-suzanne-collins.html
      Book 3: http://everydayreading.blogspot.com/2010/09/mockingjay-by-suzanne-collins.html

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  2. When my mom had three brain hemorrhages last year, it was her neighbors that were there for her when we had to work or whatever. So it's heartbreaking to see one of them battling with early-onset Alzheimers.

    After her second hemorrhage, my mom was confused and kind of out of it, but at least she didn't know it. I greatly prefer that to the heartbreak of knowing you're forgetting things you shouldn't and that it's only going to get worse from here. I hope neither of my parents ever get it.

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  3. I have this one to read, but not sure I can do it. My dad - who is only 65- is battling Alzheimers. His mother and all of her siblings had it, and I of course worry with every little slip of my memory if I, too, am destined for this. I have heard great things about this book and enjoyed Lisa Genova's other book, Left Neglected.

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  4. This sounds like a great read. Definitely on reading list now!

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  5. I read this book not long after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I found it fascinating and heartbreaking all at once. It's been interesting to see my mother progress along her path in much the same way (although hers is not early-onset), and that makes it easier for me to understand what she is going through. I've done pretty extensive reading (factual) about Alzheimer's and Still Alice seems to be pretty on the nose about the progress of the disease.

    I have to say though, that I cried and cried and cried during the second half of the book, knowing that that's what is ahead for my family.

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  6. Hmm. I picked this up when you said you loved it, but I think that maybe it'll go back unread. I'm not up for long term illness disease at the moment.

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  7. Great review. I read this with my own book club a few years ago and loved it, even though it was quite sad. And I really did start to feel paranoid while reading it!

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  8. This sounds like a good read - I'll add it to my wish list.

    On a different note...have you read ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD by Laura Vanderkam. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and have found it fascinating. The way she mixes in studies and statistical research while talking about money and happiness is pretty good so far. As I've been reading it I've been thinking of you and that is seems right up your alley.

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  9. I sobbed my way through this book a couple of months ago. I've watched two grandparents suffer through Alzheimers, I know it's in my blood and this book made it horrifyingly real to me. It also made me wish I could go back and be more supportive of my grandparents who I watched suffer.

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  10. I just finished listening to this last night on a long drive home and then I dreamt I had Alzheimer's- not a very comforting dream. Thanks for a good recommendation, I really enjoyed reading it!

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