Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: Still Alice

Still Alice
Lisa Genova
Pocket Books 2009

I picked up Still Alice because it was my library's book club selection this month. I'd never heard of Lisa Genova, but by the time I finished the novel, I was glad to know she's working on another.

Alice is a 50 year old psychology professor at Harvard who has co-authored a text book with her husband, a research scientist, and has established an incredible reputation as not only a preferred teacher but also as a world-traveled speaker. As she celebrates her birthday, she is struggling with memory issues and even starting to get lost close to home in an area she's very familiar with. Going privately to a neurologist, she is diagnosed with early onset alzheimer's disease.

Since Alice is the POV character, you have to wonder how Genova will continue to follow her story as Alice lapses further into the disease. I was rather impressed with how well she managed to show the early struggles as well as the progression. All of the characters are well drawn from Alice's POV and we get to know some of them better than others. I found it interesting that the child she says she knows the least is the one we know the most. The other two are mainly background.

Her husband, John, is an interesting character and at times, I wanted to yell at him for being so self-centered, but then looking back at their history, I couldn't help but think Alice partly made him that way with her work obsession. The novel is a nice look at marriage-combined-with-work issues, as well as the dementia issue.

From the beginning, we bond with Alice. Anyone who has ever been so busy finding a set of keys seems an impossible task will relate. This makes us truly sympathetic of her plight and we pull for her to keep going, keep trying. As we do, we learn much about Alzheimers and how it progresses and how they are working to find ways to slow or stop it. There is also information about how to keep the brain healthy in general.

At times, the writing is a bit stiff, especially at the beginning, but Genova is a first time novelist and I believe she may find her stride with the next.
This is a must read for anyone dealing with dementia in a loved one, anyone with dementia in their family history, as well as for anyone who wants to better understand this disease. It is truly educational and heartwarming and sad and hopeful all at once.

Note: Genova self-pubbed Still Alice when she couldn't find a publisher for it. She went through iUniverse and also contacted the National Alzheimer's Association for a possible endorsement, got their agreement, won a couple of indie awards, and Pocket Books picked it up. She recommends other authors self-pub instead of letting their manuscripts languish.

This review is from a book I purchased and no compensation has been offered or received.



Unknown said...

LORAINE--Alzheimer's, or severe dementia, is not fun to read about. This author seems to have written a sensitive, compassionate story, one a person might want to read if faced with such a tragedy. My mother--93--is way beyond help, reasoning, anything. Hers is not true Alzheimers', for there is a difference. I actually said goodbye to her the last time I visited. All I could do was sit on the side of her bed and hold her hand.
I enjoyed hearing about the author's publishing experiences. Good advice--Celia

LK Hunsaker said...

Celia, the book was on my mind even while not reading it, through the day. No, not easy to read but a lot of important information in there.

I'm sorry about your mom. My grandma had dementia the last several years before we lost her, also. It's very hard for families as well as for the one with the disease. This was cathartic, actually.

A couple of things I'll keep with me from the book:

"What is good for the heart is good for the brain."

Antioxidants are important: green tea, dark chocolate, vitamins C & E, as is exercising regularly.

Early diagnosis is important so be aware of signs.

And you're right. There's a difference between dementia and Alzheimers. I was disappointed she did not make that differentiation.