Published in January 2009, Still Alice is the debut novel by Lisa Genova. Dr. Genova has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. The book is about 50-year-old Alice Howland’s descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The author is very well-researched on the disease, yet she writes in an accessible and compelling way.
Alice and her husband are professors at Harvard, and have 2 daughters and a son in their 20s. At first she begins to notice that she is increasingly forgetful but assumes it is the result of stress, menopause, aging etc. The forgetful episodes begin to interfere with her life and after finding herself lost a couple blocks from her home, she decides to see her doctor. She is then referred to a neurologist who diagnoses Alzheimer’s disease. The author admits that she did not want to focus on the reality of an often lengthy and complicated diagnosis process, so chose to depict how things should happen instead. Alice quickly begins to consider her future and where this disease will take her. Not only does she know that at this point there is no cure so it will be fatal, and that she is likely to cause a great deal of pain to those around her as she loses the ability to recognize them, but she also knows that she will lose herself in the process.
The characters around Alice and their interactions with her provide one of the most interesting aspects of the book: her husband’s denial and subsequent immersion in his work, her youngest daughter’s empathy and understanding, the distancing from her intellectual colleagues, and the discussions by other relatives of what is best for her while she is in the room, as though she was already gone. These interactions made me question whom I would most resemble if someone close to me had Alzheimer’s. Although it would be wonderful to think that each of us could provide the help and comfort that the youngest daughter provides her mother, the reality is that this is a very difficult disease to cope with for everyone.
Lisa Genova is obviously passionate about advocacy for people suffering from dementia and provides a very realistic and heart-breaking narrative from Alice’s perspective, including clinical details about symptoms, treatment options and patient care without the dryness of a medical textbook. You should read this exceptionally well written book whether or not you know someone with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
For more information you can look at the official website www.stillalice.com. This website has one of my favorite features of book websites; it shows the book jackets from different countries, which can be a fun way to see what imagery different artists chose to highlight.
Erika Anderson is the manager of Coho Books, where she will happily resume providing oral book reviews once she is back from her maternity leave. She has a B.Sc. in Natural Resources Management.