Still Alice by Lisa Genova fulfilled the
category “A Book about
Forgetting” for the PopSugar 2021 Reading Challenge. In this novel, Alice
Howland discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age fifty.
Alice Howland is a professor of cognitive psychology
at Harvard. Yep, a Harvard professor with Alzheimer’s. The story broke my heart. Here’s a brilliant mind dying,
and modern medicine could do nothing to save her. The novel includes not only
her journey and pain with the situation but also her family’s. I think that’s
where the book sucked me in and shredded my emotions. The character had a gene
for this type of Alzheimer’s, and it’s a 50/50 shot to pass on to her children,
all adults dealing with their own issues. Two opt to test, and one has the
been reading a few books about genetic disorders and their inheritability (i.e.
Kathryn Biel’s series on breast cancer and a cozy mystery about a breast cancer
patient). I don’t know if it’s better to know or not. Modern medicine is
wonderful, but what happens when the material that makes you yourself gives you
a disease medicine can’t cure? Or a disease you give to your babies?
The book also speaks to family matters, a subject I
love in a story. I’ve
had some turbulent issues with my siblings in the past, and we aren’t as close
as one would hope. Being the mom of two very different teen girls, I’m learning
“the mother” role about guiding, not crushing, leading by example, and so
forth. I gravitate to stories where families triumph over their issues and come
together. (Charmed, The Umbrella Academy, Harry Potter, Supernatural—to
name a few.) In this novel, the youngest child and Alice don’t see eye to eye
about college, an issue my oldest and I are at loggerheads about. Reading such books
has shown me how better to embrace my daughter and her choices. Many of these
stories teach me, “Your choices are not mine. And that’s okay.” Basically, it
makes me a better mom. (I’m still working on the sibling part.)
The novel was written in first-person which makes for
interesting reading. We have a brilliant woman looking at her life and disease clinically.
But that doesn’t mean
the book doesn’t pack the emotion in it. Through her sometimes terse narrative,
we can see the emotions of the family and her own bubble-over. For me, the
sections with her husband are so telling, the pain, the denial, the hurt,
especially when he discovers the butterfly file. And each of her children reacts
differently to the news, and therein are all the feels about their mother,
their family, and their own futures.
It was a tough tale, a weepy one, and all about
forgetting the best and most important things in life. Sometimes I wished I
picked a sweet romance with an amnesia trope for this prompt.
I give Still Alice by Lisa Genova Four Purple Butterflies.