Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Published May 2009 by Gale Group
Source: Bought it

Publisher's Summary:
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. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what it’s like to literally lose your mind...

My Thoughts:
This one's been around getting great reviews for a while but it was the urging of my friend, Mari (Bookworm With A View) that convinced me to pick it up and read it. For some reason, though, it just never seemed to make it to the top of my to-read-next list. So I put it on my TBR Challenge list to make sure I found time for it this year. Now I'm kicking myself, wondering why I didn't listen to Mari sooner!

In Alice, Genova has crafted a character that most of us can't relate to in regards to her professional life but certainly any wife or mother can relate to her. By giving Alice such a high intellect, such a demanding and respected career, and, in particular, a expertise in linguistics, Genova is able to convey so much - this disease can strike anyone; it's difficult, even for those operating at the highest levels, for people to catch the early signs; and no matter where you start, this disease will take you all the way down.

Still Alice is packed with the information about Alzheimer's disease but it rarely feels like Genova is showing off her research. Instead, again because of Alice's education and career, it feels entirely organic that she and her husband would rabidly research what Alice is facing, what her treatment options are, and the kind of support system there is available. And because we follow Alice to her doctors' visits, we're also privy to some of the hardest moments - the empirical proof that Alice is failing despite everyone's best efforts.

But it was the more personal moments that repeatedly brought tears to my eyes. When Alice literally tears her house apart looking for something...but she can't even remember what she's looking for. When she empties all of the kitchen cupboards because she thinks everything is in the wrong place, only to discover that she's walked into the wrong house. When she can't remember who one of her daughters is, even though she remembers the other two children and when she doesn't remember that the babies she is holding are her grandchildren.  By far and away the thing that got to me the most was the list of things Alice made for herself early on to gauge how far along her Alzheimer's had progressed.
Alice, answer the following questions:1. What month is it?2. Where do you live?3. Where is your office?4. When is Anna's birthday?5. How many children do you have?
Throughout the book, Genova comes back to this series of questions. Every time, Alice's answers become less and less accurate until she no longer knows the correct answers. By then, though, she doesn't know that she is wrong.

I'm about the same age as Alice and to say that this book scared me is an understatement. Twice while typing this review, I had what we often call "brain farts" when I had to stop and think about the spelling of words I've known since childhood. But now, as I'm sure I will for a while now, I find myself wondering if those were just brain farts or the insidious first signs of early onset Alzheimer's disease.

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