Sometimes books sit on one's to-read pile too long. Their cover becomes too familiar and perhaps you've heard so much about the book you feel as though you've read it already-perhaps by osmosis.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Still Alice waited too long. On the other hand, it was such a magnificent read, that last week, when my energy flagged and my attention felt less than flea-like, I was grateful that I'd been so stupid, because just when I needed it, this book swept me up and called to me at every free moment.
This story of Alice Howland, a fifty-year old Harvard professor, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease is a novel of family, marriage and motherhood as much as a story of this disease. Lisa Genova wraps the two tracks of the book-living inside Alzheimer's, and living with your family's reactions to your disease-seamlessly. This is first and foremost a beautiful novel. Then, second, it is a strikingly well rendered primer on the disease.
It seems to me, that most of what I've read about Alzheimer's (and granted, it is not a topic I've searched out) has concentrated on the tragic consequences that the family suffers. Except for two pages, where we are given the briefest of Alice's husband's point of view, Still Alice stays inside Alice's head. We are given access to Alice's emotion, her secret plans, and most amazingly, taken with her as her disease progresses.
The searing message I took away from Genova's book was not the horror of the disease-I'd already imagined that-it was the humanity of the disease. It was the awareness that moments of the horror of confusion and humiliation could be followed by times of happiness. I learned that family and friends (and making new friends) is as important, or more so, during this time as ever. I learned that patients with Alzheimer's will lose their abilities to perform as they once did-but they retain their need of love and their ability to give love.
The title of this book is as apt a title as I've ever read. Alice Howland's life has changed. Her work world is shattered and she, her husband, and her three grown children must build a new paradigm of family.
But she is ‘still Alice.'
A brilliant book. Thank you, Lisa Genova for writing it.
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