Still Alice

Sometimes a book makes you laugh.  Sometimes a book makes you cry.  But sometimes a book just leaves you speechless.  It's no surprise that these types of books are the ones I most want to tell the world about but also those with which I have the hardest time finding words to communicate their impact.  It could be that "impacting" might be the best description for a book I read a few weeks but still find myself reflecting on.  I'm always impressed by books that can haunt me in this manner and Still Alice by Lisa Genova was definitely one such work.

Alice Howland is a fifty-year-old psychology professor at Harvard who begins having problems with her memory.  The episodes range from forgetting words to mild disorientation but the diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease comes as a devastating blow to her active and successful professional and family life.  From her husband's refusal to accept the truth to her children fearing for their own futures and her coworkers uncertainty of how to deal with her illness a range of characters in Alice's life convey the difficulties of seeing a loved one cope with dementia but it is the narration of the story - told through Alice's eyes - that make this book so stunning.

Up close and personal in the face of Alzheimer's Disease Lisa Genova's writing doesn't shy away from her protagonist's raw feelings.  Alice deals with fear, frustration, embarrassment, and anger while narrating the story in such a way that the reader is painfully aware of her failing memory.  Each chapter is marked as a month and as the pages turn the young professor loses more and more of her self, struggling with the fact that she is - as the title suggests - Still Alice

Genova's book is by no means a "feel-good story" or a "comfort read".  I have a hard time recommending books to others when I know how challenging the subject matter can be, but Still Alice is what I would call an important book.  It might not be a book that people will want to read, but is a book that people should read.  The novel paints a portrait of the heartbreaking reality of life with Early Onset Alzheimer's and this is a book of understanding and empathy for anyone dealing with the disease directly or anyone with a loved one with dementia.  
I know I heard a lot about this book before I finally picked it up - more accurately before a bus-riding friend placed it in my hands with the command "Read this!" (thanks Sue!) - and if anyone else is on the fence about diving into Still Alice, don't hesitate, just read it.  Yes, the subject matter is difficult; yes, it will likely tug at the heartstrings and tear ducts; but it will also lend readers admiration for the bravery of Alzheimer's patients, multiple perspectives on coping with disease, and a new appreciation for the fragility of life in general. My words can't do this book justice, you really will just have to read it for yourself. 

4 Response to "Still Alice"

  1. StephanieD says:
    April 6, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    I have been hearing nothing but great things about Still Alice. I actually just reviewed Genova's second book, Left Neglect, and judging from the quality of that book, I'm sure I would react the way you did with Still Alice. Alzheimer's is one of those topics I am leery of reading about but I've only come upon one other novel that deals with it - The Madonnas of Leningrad.

  2. Attack of the Book! says:
    April 8, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    I actually started this a while ago but stopped. My plan was to finish it at a later time. You know the part where she goes to the doctor and couldn't remember the (street?) that he asked her to remember? Well, I couldn't either and it scared me. Now I want to suck it up and finish reading it. I don't think I've ever heard anything bad about it.

  3. Anonymous Says:
    April 12, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    From Sue.....I loved sharing this book with you as I knew it would impact you as much as it has impacted me. It is now being passed around the bus for others to read and hopefully your blog will encourage others to read it as well. I read Still Alice in 2009 and still think about it often. As I now am dealing with an elderly mom, this book taught me understanding and patience - it was terrifying and intriguing all at the same time. This book is at the top of my list of best books I have ever read. I recently read Lisa Genova's second book "Left Neglected" which I also recommend. It is fascinating, interesting and disturbing all at the same time and it will make you think twice before using your cell phone in the car! Sue

  4. Bailey says:
    April 13, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    Great review! I read this one last year and was so moved by the subject matter and how Genova portrays this sad disease. You are right... it definitely is not a comfort read, but it is important and should be read.

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