Genova, Lisa. Still Alice
Simon & Schuster, 2008
Simon & Schuster Audio. Narrated by the author
As the book opens, Alice Howland, Ph. D., a cognitive psychologist at Harvard, works on a peer-review evaluation of an academic paper submitted for publication in a scientific journal. She is disturbed by the sound of her husband, John, a scientific researcher, downstairs in the kitchen looking for something. Alice figures that John has probably once again mislaid either his keys or his glasses. She goes downstairs and finds the keys he’s looking for in plain sight on the kitchen counter. John sometimes gets so distracted and absent-minded. It’s a good thing Alice is around to help him.
But, one month before her fiftieth birthday, the reliable Alice begins to become less reliable as she forgets things. Her behavior affects both her family and her work. As her memory lapses increase in both frequency and severity, she finally receives the diagnosis of early-onset Alzhiemer’s disease. She tries to outsmart the disease by setting up a memory challenge that her Blackberry presents her with each morning. She figures that when she can no longer remember the answers to these simple questions, such as the birth date of one of her children, it will be time for her to take action. For the remainder of the book the reader watches, along with the Howland family, as this previously intelligent and vibrant woman gradually declines. Eventually Alice begins giving answers on the morning quiz that she thinks are correct but that the reader knows are wrong.
It is painful to watch this process of Alice Howland’s decline. All the members of my book group agreed that this is one of the most frightening books they had ever read because of Genova’s ability to portray Alice’s experiences. In an interview at the back of the trade paperback edition of the book, Genova says that most of the material about Alzhiemer’s disease is written from the point of view of caregivers, who face a truly monumental task. But in this novel she wanted to present the point of view of a person with the disease. However, although the primary focus is on Alice, Genova also treats some of the other ramifications of the disease, such as the decision that Alice’s three children must face about whether to be tested for the genetic marker that indicates predisposition toward the early-onset form of the disease. The novel portrays the challenges that both the patient and the patient’s family must face over the course of this terrible disease.
© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown