Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Fifty-year-old Alice Howland loves her life and is immensely proud of everything she has achieved in her career. She is a professor at Harvard and a world-renounced expert in linguistics, extremely well-known and respected in her field. She also has a loving, equally successful husband, and three grown children she adores. But the day she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s changes everything for Alice. Even though she’s incredibly independent, she suddenly is forgetting hugely important details about her life, can barely keep her notes straight to teach her classes, and is needing to rely more and more on her husband and children to get through her days. She is forced to reevaluate her own self-worth as what she previously placed so much value in, her intelligence and accomplishments, are slipping further and further away from her.
I read Still Anthony, also by Lisa Genova, several months back and while I liked it, it didn’t quite live up to everything I’d heard about what a great author Genova is. I’m happy I gave her another shot because with Still Alice, it’s abundantly clear to me how much talent Genova has. Of the two novels by her I’ve read, Still Alice is the MUCH better book.
This novel is heartbreaking not only because the subject matter is so difficult, but for two other major reasons: One, Alice is an incredibly realistic character that the reader can’t help but root for, and two, it’s impossible for the reader not to picture him/herself in Alice’s place. Or at the very least, to picture one’s parents in her place. Alice herself is so, so intelligent and fiercely independent, so the fact that this happens to her is just … sad. There’s no other way to describe it, really. It almost feels like such a WASTE, for someone with so much to contribute to society become unable to contribute much of anything at the young age of fifty. That sounds really harsh, and I hope you know what I mean, but if you read the book you will see … it’s really just such a tragically sad situation.
This novel is so introspective and inside Alice’s head, while also being so … not. For example, there’s one scene where Alice talks about going to a class to listen to a lecture, sits down for a while, the professor never shows up, so finally she decides to get up and leave. The reader knows, of course, that it’s Alice who is supposed to be the professor, but her Alzheimer’s made her think she was supposed to be a student in that class, and that because of this, all her students are wondering what the heck is wrong with her. See what I mean? SO heartbreaking. But at the same time, she has incredible moments of clarity, like when she writes herself instructions and puts them on her computer in a specific file with directions on how to get there, so her future self with even worse Alzheimer’s can hopefully read the stuff she wrote and maybe remember something.
Also, I listened to the audio of this one, and it’s read by Lisa Genova herself, who did an exceptional job with the narration. If I heard Lisa speak at a book conference or something I would probably get freaked out because to me, Lisa Genova IS Alice. That’s how excellent her narration was.
Anyway. It’s not a perfect book – I didn’t feel the supporting characters were anywhere near as complete as Alice, and some of them (her children especially) were sort of one-note. I also was hoping for something to happen throughout the book that never actually did happen, which looking back on it I’m not sure if that particular thing happening was the right thing or not, just … I don’t know. Plus the ending was sort of disappointing. But overall, a really strong novel, if incredibly depressing, and it gave me a lot to think about. Highly recommended.