This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is a fictional novel written in first person by a character who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 51. It is a very horrific novel to read, especially knowing that this disease actually exists. It's bad enough that Alzheimer's exists at all, let alone affecting an age demographic that is still "young".

Reading this reminded me very much of Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's, another dreadful disease. I thought about how this character and Fox would have to deal with symptoms of a horrible disease that affects "old people" as young people.

I cried a lot reading this. It is an emotional journey: reading this character's thoughts as they gradually fade. She knows she has it; we know she has it; and then we read her accounts of every day life as she knows it: with little memory.

The first time I cried was when she couldn't find the bathroom in her own home and panicked, then couldn't hold back and wet herself just as her husband walked in. Humiliating and the first sign of her not-so-gradual decline.

Then when she looks at her beloved daughter Lydia, and mistakes her for the character she played in a play, not regarding her as her own daughter but a stranger? It just gets worse.

I was angry at her husband because, an agreed upon sabbatical, was no longer on the books because he decided to take another job. I don't recall Genova writing this conversation out but in the end, I realized that it was probably a discussion point that they both had before her symptoms deteriorated, and no one could actually verify that this was what Alice had actually wanted.

This is amazingly written by Lisa Genova, who, surprisingly to me, is a neuroscientist. How she could deftly write with right-brain creativity from a very left-brain science is baffling. While a few of the scientific explanations that Alice recites in her head, as to what is actually happening to her brain, it is never over-wrought with science that the reader can't follow along.

The consequence, of course, to reading this book is freaking out at my own forgetfulness. Just today, I realized that I skipped my coffee all together...I mean, I had to _think_ "did I or didn't I have a morning cup of coffee?" That's just today...every day there has been some sort of memory loss of something and I panic: OMG, I must have the disease!

Alice wrote herself five questions, once she found out she had the disease. They were easy questions: where do you live? what month is it? where is your office? what is your oldest daughter's name? and what is your daughter's birthday. She wrote herself: if you ever forget one of these questions, go the the file named "butterfly" and follow the instructions there.

Near the end, she finally did that. The file contained specific information on how to take a load of pills and end her life. On the way up to getting the pills, she completely forgot what she was up there for.

This idea is definitely something I would consider but I would have to somehow make sure that the pills were close to the file so that I wouldn't forget.

Sobering thought, I know, but man, what a horrible disease to live with - both for the family and especially, the victim.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's a good sign when someone can read such an emotional book and still 'enjoy' it. I think I'll add it to my list.