Monday, August 3, 2015

Still Alice, Lisa Genova

This was an amazing read!! A friend recommended it to me, warned me it was sad, but said it was really good. She did not lie on any account!

This book is about Alice, a professor at Harvard who is 50 years old and at the peak of her professional career. She has 3 grown children, one is married (and anxiously awaiting children of her own), one is becoming a medical Dr. and one who has balked at the traditional path to college on her way to adulthood and is instead pursuing an acting career in LA. Which is a source of significant strife between them. Not long into the story line, Alice starts to have lapses in her thought process and memory. Once she finds herself completely disoriented in a part of town that she runs through every single day and just cannot for the life of her figure out where she is or where she needs to go to get to where she’s going. This is disconcerting enough for her to make an appointment with her physician. Who doesn’t really seem disturbed by anything-after all, many of the symptoms mirror that that accompany menopause-until she tells her about the disorienting episode. Later, Alice insists upon going to a neurologist. It’s through some more testing that she finds out her diagnosis: Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s on a train that has only one destination and no way to get off. We then go through with Alice’s perspective all of the way of her disease progressing at an alarming (but realistic, much of this book is based on solid research, real life experiences of real people living with this disease, and real time progression as seen in real life) rate. You feel her confusion, her despair, her frustration, everything. It is so raw and so real. I have a whole lot better perspective and a TON more compassion for this group of people than I had before. And compassion is definitely different from sympathy. People in this situation don’t need sympathy; they don’t need you to feel sorry for them, they need our compassion. They need us to patiently give them the same information as many times as they need it. They need us to know that even though they don’t catch the meanings of things, they can catch the essence, especially the emotional aspect of things around them. They may not be fully aware, but they can still comprehend some things. We don’t know which things, since they often find it difficult to communicate those things, so we need to remember that they are not just shells of a person. They are STILL THEMSELVES somewhere in there. Just like Alice is “Still Alice”.  I am a better person for having read this book. It makes you re-evaluate what is important to you in your life. When Alice realizes she doesn’t have much time of lucidity left, it’s not more research papers she wants to write or more conferences to attend. It’s time with her family, it’s reconciling relationships with her children to a good healthy place, it’s spending quality time with her husband while she still knows who he is and how he’s significant to her. And another thing that is wonderful about this book is that her family stays with her. They rally around her. Even her busy husband who has a lot of work to do (he is also a professor at Harvard). Sometimes it seem selfish of her husband to still dedicate so much of his time in his profession, but at the same time, he needs to be fulfilled in a way himself in order to be able to devote himself to her and her car, which I can imagine is extremely exhausting. Just like the mother of small children needs to make time for herself to be recharged and be a great mom.  He doesn’t leave her, he doesn’t berate her for not knowing things, for not knowing who he is. He is kind, he is patient, he is every bit as wonderful as the man in The Notebook who tells their story to his wife every day who has forgotten who she and he are. And in some ways, he’s more wonderful. Because you know how much he is hurting, how much he is dealing with.

The author is writing another book (it might already be out) called Love, Anthony which had 2 sneak peak chapters at the end of the Alice book that strongly points to a parent living with a severely autistic child which I am incredibly interested to read! She also has a different book, “Left Neglected” about a busy woman in her 30s who is trying to do everything and be everything to everyone, but gets in a car accident that leaves her with the inability to perceive everything to her left. This one sounds intriguing as well.  Although I think I’ll balance these heavier topic books with a few light hearted reads in between. Because for me, I think about books like these for a long time, and I like to always have something to read. If I read a few light books, it allows me to still think about the deeper books and the concepts it brings to light while still feeding my addiction to read.

I highly recommend this book! It was also made into a movie last year. I’ve got it on hold at the library….but I’m something like 44 in line. So I hope I get ahold of it soon enough to know how closely it follows the book. All I know is that Alice is supposed to have curly dark hair and the actress playing her doesn’t. But that can be forgiven if the acting is exceptional J

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