Thursday, August 27, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: STILL ALICE

by Lisa Genova
Contemporary Fiction

Brilliant psycholinguistics professor develops early-onset Alzheimers disease.

Eyecatching blue butterfly-on-white-background design; is relevant to content.

What Works
This wonderful, heartbreaking novel is an astonishingly quick read. Partly because the reader urgently wants to know what happens next despite the clarity with which Alice goes downhill, partly because of the author's skill at deciding what was necessary for the story and paring everything else away. Every scene depicts something significant about how the heroine figures out something is wrong and deals with it, and every scene is free of padding. What remains is an amazing tale about the way Alice comes to terms with what is happening to her, and how those around her - spouse, children, friends, colleagues - react.

As in real life when a devastating diagnosis rips calm, orderly lives apart, not everyone demonstrates patience or support. Whether due to embarrassment, fear of own mortality, or personal grief, there are those who choose to withdraw so as not to deal with the stricken person, abandoning them to lonliness on top of all the other difficutlies enfolding their life. Alice's insistence on seeing herself as a person who happens to have Alzheimers, rather than primarily an Alzheimers patient, is a lesson readers would be able to apply to many other situations when interacting with people trying to wrest control of their lives back from intrusive and lethal companions.

What Doesn't
The only thing Apprentice Writer can think of is the real possibility that readers will cheat themselves of this book due to fear of upsetting subject matter. AW knows whereof she speaks; she would not have read this had it not been chosen by her book club. It is not a pretty thought to imagine not recognizing one's loved ones, not being competent to do one's job, not being able to carry out fundamental personal grooming. Trying to avoid such uncomfortable reality will do nothing to keep it away, however, if that is what is written in one's genetic future. What might help, on the other hand, is to learn from how others have dealt with the situation, and taking a page from their book about appreciating what one has while one has it.

A marvellous, non-preachy story meticulously researched and written by a neuroscientist. Remarkably, it manages to end on a hopeful note. Scads of discussion topics for book clubs. HIGHLY RECOMMEND


Julia Smith said...

Written by a neuroscientist. Wow.

Great review, M. The 'every scene is free of padding' really attracts me.

M. said...

Hey Julia -
it really worked for me, and every single other bookclub sister present at the meeting.

BTW - finally read 'The Night Watch'. Loved it. Thanks for the reco.

Julia Smith said...

M - Lukyanenko has four books in the Night Watch series:

Night Watch
Day Watch
Twilight Watch
Last Watch

I've read the first one and part of the second. I just keep bumping my personal reading to review books and for a reading challenge I'm doing. Next year I'm going to do a Read Your Own Books challenge. That will get me caught up on some of those.

M. said...

I think I need to look into the 'Read Your Own Books' Challenge!

M. said...

I think I need to look into the 'Read Your Own Books' Challenge!

LisaMM said...

I really like the way you set up your reviews. The "what works" and "what doesn't" section and then the overall summation.. I really like it.

My book club also loved this book and had a great discussion about it this summer. I told my husband about the book and he has taken to calling me "Still Lisa" when I have an occasional brain fade. I do not think he's funny.

M. said...

Lisa -
Welcome! I totally agree if my husband did that to me he'd be in the doghouse, but here where he (and your husband) can't see me it made me chuckle. Would get old really fast, though! And I like the term 'brain-fade'.

Thanks for your kind words on my idiosyncratic setup. It helps me organize my thoughts.

Jenners said...

I've heard so many wonderful things about this book .. and you are right -- avoiding an umcomfortable or difficult subject does nothing to prevent it from happening. This is going on my to read list when I'm a little bit more emotionally grounded.

wonderful review.

And thank you for your kind comments on the death of my dad. I really appreciated what you said.