Monday, April 4, 2011

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I will never know my mom’s last thoughts because she couldn’t organize or articulate them. I didn’t think she had last thoughts. After reading Still Alice I’m not so sure. I wish I’d read Still Alice before my mom died.

Still Alice by first-time author Lisa Genova is a novel about a Harvard professor at the height of her career, who at the age of 50 develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. The fact that my book club argued about whether this was a true story or not (it is not) is a clear indication to me of just how real the story felt. My mom didn’t die of Alzheimer’s, but she did struggle with dementia and eventually lapsed into total disconnect being unable to recognize family, lacking the ability to articulate, etc.

Although Still Alice is a work of fiction, I tend to believe Lisa Genova’s portrayal of Alice and her illness, and how her illness affects her family for the following reasons:
1. Lisa Genova graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She has done research on the molecular etiology of depression, Parkinson's disease, drug addiction, and memory loss following stroke.
2. Still Alice felt like a close friend, updating me on her life over a cup of coffee, intimate and palpable.
3. The fact that the story is told from the perspective of Alice, as she descends into Alzheimer’s, made it raw with tension.

I won’t disclose more about how the story unfolds because that is part of the “intrigue” that makes this a great read. I’ll just end with this: If I could go back in time to when my mom became mute and disconnected, I would say to her, “I understand that you have thoughts that you cannot express, so I want you to know that I realize this and am sorry that you cannot express those thoughts. I also know that you love me as much as I love you.”

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