Review: Still Alice, a novel by Lisa Genova
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Pocket Books A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2007/Paperback in 2009
Labels: Early Onset Alzheimer's
Rating: 5 Stars
Video on book from Amazon:
I'd had this book in my TBR stack for a few years. I was not ready to read it. I thought it would scare the heck out of me, give me more to worry about, and further my own mother died of end-stage Alzheimer's in March 2008. Since then my mother's only sibling died of Alzheimer's late last fall. I needed to read this book when I was ready, and not before then. Oddly enough, the book did not frighten me. I have a peace, a peace that cannot humanly be understood.
I'm well acquainted with Alzheimer's. I was between 26 and 28, when my mother began showing signs of this hideous disease. My mother would have been age 63-65. She was 69 in 1996, when she was diagnosed. Mother also took the medication Aricept at the beginning stage (just as our character Alice did in Still Alice). While reading Still Alice, I remembered some things I'd forgotten about mom when she was sick. So, maybe reading Still Alice, was cathartic.
Alice is an intellectual, she is stimulated and governed by her career. She is a Harvard professor of psychology. Her identity is in her career. Her husband, also an intellectual, have three grown children that no longer live at home. Alice is approaching her 50th birthday when she begins showing strong signs of a brain-related problem. At first she thinks she is suffering from menopause symptoms. After a physical, her doctor tells her the bad news, Early Onset Alzheimer's. The news is shocking, and it's devastating. She waits several days before telling her husband. The news is then broken to their children.
It is impossible for me to review this book without personalizing. I helped care for my mother many years, from age 28 until I was 44.
- I was there when Mother was diagnosed.
- I was there when she no longer could bathe herself.
- I was there when she could not take care of herself in the bathroom.
- I was there when she could not dress herself.
- I was there when she was no longer able to speak.
- I was there when she was curled up in a rigid fetal position in her nursing home bed---four years.
- I was there when at the end, her body was shutting down and she was no longer able to swallow.
- I was there when it took nearly three weeks for her broken shell of a body to shut down and die.
Alice is a young woman, because to me she is young, we are the same age! Society is aware of Alzheimer's, but we think it can only happen to the aged. Alice is 50. She is at the peak of her career. She is in top physical health. She runs. She eats healthy. She has a brilliant mind. Yet, a plaque is thickening in her brain. Eventually she won't remember who she is, much less her family, or what was her career.
Anything in life that we have no control over scares the heck out of us. Either we incessantly worry about it, or we choose to think about it later. There are two things I learned during my mother's end of life.
- One of the things I learned when I was watching my mother die, is we really have very little in this life we have control over.
- We hold onto this world as if that's all there is, as if there is no hope of heaven.
- It tells a story that must be told, in a way that grips the reader.
- The author does not let the main character be the voice in the story, instead the author uses the limited omniscient point of view. I feel that if the author had let Alice tell the story in her own voice, I'm not sure we'd been able to decipher her jumbled thoughts. I also feel that by backing up and away from Alice we're given a needed lens that shows us what the family experienced.
- I'm there, in the presence of Alice as an observer, watching her regression.
- The book shows Alice and her family dealing with each step of regression in Alzheimer's. Each step of regression requires grieving.
- The book gives the everyday reality of the disease, for example: the medications, can the patient be trusted to be left alone, loosing of independence, decisions that must be made, availability of support groups and education for the caregiver, the stages of grief, and family and friends treating the Alzheimer's patient differently---talking over them and not including them in conversation.
- During the course of the story, Alice realizes what has been most important in life---intimate connection with her family. This is a lesson for all of us!
|My mother Galveston, Texas 1946.|
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