Review: ‘Still Alice’ by Lisa Genova

still-alice_book coverIt’s been a while since I’ve read a book as beautifully written as “Still Alice.”

The novel, written by Lisa Genova, is in the point of view of Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Harvard University. At first she’s forgetful, but she dismisses it. Then she gets lost in her own neighborhood while out running. Knowing something is terribly wrong, she gets confirmation: She has early onset Alzheimer’s disease at 50 years old. Throughout the first two years after her diagnosis, Alice re-evaluates the life she knew, her relationship with her husband and children, and her ideas about herself.

Genova wrote a devastatingly beautiful novel. I’m not even sure where to begin with this review. I finished the book on March 5, and have put off writing this review the whole week.

One thing I loved about the narrative was how the chapters were split into months. Each month had different scenes from Alice’s life: the moment she got lost while out jogging (September 2003), her diagnosis (January 2004), telling her colleagues she has Alzheimer’s (September 2004) and giving a presentation at the Dementia Care Conference (March 2005). The beginning months are detailed, more in depth. Toward the end of the book, they’re shorter. Simpler. Instead of a separate chapter for each June, July and August, it’s labeled Summer 2005.

So much would change with Alice’s state of mind with each month. I found myself wondering about the rate that she was losing herself to Alzheimer’s — could it really happen that quickly? I knew it probably depended on the person, but I still wondered.

My other favorite part of the book was her relationship with her youngest daughter, Lydia. The book starts off with a tense conversation between the two: Alice still wants her daughter to go to college instead of staying in L.A. to take acting classes, Lydia doesn’t want to go to college. Alice talks about how her relationship with her youngest daughter was never the best; Lydia liked her father John better.

But as Alice is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s her relationship with Lydia begins to change. Not a first, but slowly. It really improved during the first summer of Alice’s diagnosis when Lydia stayed with them at their summer house for a couple months. You can see Alice coming around to see who her daughter just before she begins to lose her memories of Lydia. To the end of the book, Lydia stays by her mother’s side when she cans and fights for what her mom wants.

While her relationship with Lydia grows for the better, her relationship with John deteriorates. John wants to fight the diagnosis (much like many of us might), but as he slowly loses his wife to Alzheimer’s, he checks out (more or less) of the marriage and into his work. I found myself getting angry with John at various points, right along with his children. It’s a very difficult disease, and I don’t even know how I’d react to it.

For me, Alzheimer’s is one of the diseases I’m in the running to get, along with other possible diseases or cancers. My grandfather had it, but he died before I turned 2. My other grandpa had dementia, and my one of my maternal uncles has dementia now. It’s a scary reality for me, and I’m sure for others as well.

I’m really glad this book exists, and I’m really glad it was made into a movie, though I haven’t seen it yet. I’m waiting for it to come out on DVD so I can watch it alone in my room. Alzheimer’s disease needs more awareness. At the end of the book, Genova has a call to action: make a small donation to Alzheimer’s research. Donations through the CALL TO ACTION-Alzheimer’s button on her website are tallied to see how many “Still Alice” readers donated. As of March 6, the total is at $5,882.

One part of the book that stands out to me is the opening paragraph, just before the first chapter. I’ll end the review with it:

Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her hears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them. Some would argue that things were going so insidiously wrong that the neurons themselves initiated events that would lead to their own destruction. Whether it was molecular murder or cellular suicide, they were unable to warn her of what was happening before they died.

—p. 15, e-book edition

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