When your mind is your enemy
Harvard psychology professor Dr. Alice Howland is only 50 years old when she begins to experience frequent and unusual memory loss. A BlackBerry forgotten at dinner, a mysterious item on her to-do list and an out-of-town conference she forgot to attend all make Alice wonder what's happening to her.
First-time novelist Lisa Genova self-published Still Alice before the book was picked up by Pocket Books. But the knowledge she has gained from earning a doctorate in neuroscience and serving as an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association, shines throughout this debut, a realistic portrayal of an intelligent, independent woman facing early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
It's painful to witness scene after scene of forgetting, particularly as Alice awaits and then denies her diagnosis. But through those incidents, Alice's plight evokes the reader's sympathy and understanding. Still Alice tracks her mental decline over a two-year period, revealing how early-onset Alzheimer's affects Alice's relationships, career and sense of self. During the disease's rapid progression, she becomes more and more dependent on her husband and three grown children to guide her through each day. Once-mundane tasks become to-do list fodder. Alice makes notes to remind herself to take medication every morning and evening. She's even prone to forget to teach classes.
Alice discovers who she is and what her relationships mean as the disease advances. Memories fall away, but the heart remains. And though the novel is heavy on explanation of the disease's effects, Genova writes in clear language that even the least medically inclined will understand.
Those who have lost a loved one to Alzheimer's will find particular comfort in this sensitive tale. The novel portrays both the patient's and the family's struggle with Alzheimer's disease in a more heart-rending way than medical literature ever could.
Carla Jean Whitley writes from Birmingham, Alabama.