From the Publisher: Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life -- and her relationship with her family and the world -- forever.
At once beautiful and terrifying, this extraordinary debut novel by Lisa Genova is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.
My Take: I have a weakness for debuts that become New York Times bestsellers. Why else would I have picked up The Shack(child killers and justification for God, anyone?). While I find these books rarely have any literary merit they frequently tackle commonplace subjects in an uncharacteristic manner. Still Alice reminded me of My Stroke of Insight in that both take the uncommon approach of examining an illness from the perspective of the person experiencing it and therein lies their strength.
Still Alice has one central problem - it's not really a novel. It's a fictional story but it's written like a memoir. This is a compliment in that the story feels immediate and emotionally available. You believe (or I did) that there really was someone named Alice and that this is her story. You identify with her life at Harvard and her commitment to her work, her struggle to connect with her husband and her deep love for her three children. The book doesn't stand to see Alice degraded but neither does it wrap things up too neatly - her husband can bear only so much, Alice's plans to save herself are thwarted, time marches on, unrelenting.
Yet, I wish that Genova had taken some poetic license with Alice's perspective. The experience of Alzheimer's is so foreign to us that I think some literary writing would have gone far to tease out the deeper implications of losing one's sense of self and place. Genova does attempt this - for example, Alice is struck by how beach houses near her summer home are kept safe from the ravaging effect of the sea and she wishes desperately that her memories and mental abilities could be kept just as safe and pristine. These little flourishes help but they don't qualify as earth shattering.
As the novel stands, though, it is a highly readable and compassionate portrait of what it's like to live with Alzheimer's, both as the sufferer and as the family. I myself lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's years ago (and in full a few months ago) and I wish that I had read this book earlier so that I could have understood what she was going through. As a vehicle for this understanding, Still Alice is exactly what it needs to be.
Still Alice/ Lisa Genova / Simon and Schuster / PB, 2009
Review of My Stroke of Insight
Review of Opening Skinner's Box (unusual experiments in psychology)