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Friday, December 14, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is one of those different novels.  It's written from the point of view of a woman going through Early Onset Alzheimer's.  Alice is a brilliant Psychology Professor at Harvard, and is only 50 years old when she realizes she's forgetting things--it might be a recipe she's been making for decades, or how to get home.  The cast of characters includes Alice's husband and children, and takes us from diagnosis to deep into the disease.  The author, Lisa Genova, is perhaps the perfect person to have written this book, being that she holds a PhD. in neuroscience from Harvard, and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.  Genova's expertise  lends this novel both complexity and authenticity.  For example, we learn what Alice's diagnosis means for her children on a genetic level--in other words, what are their chances of getting it?  Also, one of the daughters is undergoing fertility treatments, and so her embryos are tested and selected accordingly.  We watch as Alice's husband John goes through the stages of grief, and like any family member,  we might not always agree with the decisions of the main caretaker.  Most fascinating to me is Alice's exit strategy for when things get really bad.  Will she be cognizant enough to execute her plans?  Lisa Genova says she came to write this novel because her own grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's.   She began to research Alzheimer's to support her Aunts who were caregiving.  Genova wondered what it was like for those with Early Onset, and specifically what it was like for someone relatively young to fail out of their job.  Alice as the main character is someone who thinks for a living.  Some might feel that when Alice is no longer able to think, she will have no value, but Genova says the most important thing she knows about Alzheimer's is that you are more than what you can remember, and the ending of this book reflects that.  Genova found an online support group for those with Early Onset, and asked permission to lurk and learn, and she was welcomed in because the patients said they normally don't get a say, that most decisions and conversation are directed to caretakers and family members.  In this easily-understandable-but-brilliant novel, Genova has given them a wonderful voice.

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