Lisa Genova presents a wonderfully and realistically woven, touching story about Alice Howland. Mother, wife, esteemed Harvard Professor, Research Analyst, Thesis Advisor-- all around very important woman, busy and in full control of her life. Slowly, instances begin to pop up that seem strange and disconcerting, but also fleeting. She feels ridiculous even making mention of them until they start happening with more frequency and severity.
It begins with losing a word, here and there. Forgetting a name. The fact that she just met someone and forgot that she met them. Completely missing a flight to speak at a conference. The panic begins to set in when Alice goes out for a run and is momentarily frozen in fear-- she has no idea where she is and how to get home. Unexpectedly, her memory snaps back, but the rising doubt within herself remains.
A visit to the neurologist confirms the unimaginable. In her early 50's, a young, virile, brilliant Alice has been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. The news is a blow, but Alice tries to remain calm and steadfast, seek answers, prepare herself for what she knows is going to be a humiliating end. "I am no longer a Harvard Professor," she tells herself, after deciding to step down from her duties at the University. Alice begins to lose bits and pieces of herself, pieces she knows and can remember but seem to be lost inside her, swimming in something, being held back by a thickness that she can't navigate. Alice will eventually have to be cared for. She won't remember those who love her. Will she remember those she loves? And that she loves them?
Amid this story of awakening and an unremarkable strength is a tale of coming apart and gluing back together. Once at odds with a daughter who always paved her own way, her illness allows Alice to form a special bond that "old Alice" may never have allowed to form. At the opposite end, what was once a comfortable existence with her husband John begins to fray at the edges and unravel quickly as the disease progresses.
Still Alice is a moving, gripping story. At several points, I teared up, feeling the emotion with the author as she took us through the gamut of emotions- confusion, fear, anger, frustration. We feel, see, hear everything through Alice's eyes. That view is revealing, a trip into dementia and Alzheimer's that those of us on the outside of a debilitating, degenerative illness will never know.
I think one of the points of the story that was most moving to me, was the letter that Alice wrote to herself, back when she was lucid and of sound mind. The daily tests she gives herself and, upon failing, the instructions she also gives herself. I find it ironic that lucid Alice, as much forethought as she put into planning ahead, never imagined that she wouldn't even be able to carry out her own instructions. And, thank goodness she couldn't. She would have missed out on so much.
Genova does a superb job telling her story. I already can't wait to read her second novel, "Left Behind."
View all my reviews