[Review] Inside The O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Posted 7 April, 2015 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 0 Comments

Inside the O'Briens Book Cover Inside the O'Briens
Lisa Genova
Gallery Books
April 7, 2015
NetGalley/ Gallery Books

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

I have read everything Ms. Genova has published and I continue to be both entertained and educated by her poignant, moving portrayals of people who could be you or me or my next door neighbor, going through a journey that some would describe as horrific. Genova has written about Alzheimer’s Disease, traumatic brain injuries and autism. Now she is back to bring us into the world of Huntington’s Disease by introducing us to the OBrien’s.
Joe is a Boston Cop, Blue to the core and proud of it. His son, JJ is a firefighter; son Patrick runs a bar, daughters Meghan and Katie are both artistic. He calls his wife Rosie his bride and he’s looking forward to retiring from the police force and enjoying life with her and his kids nearby. As in her previous books, small instances become frequent occurrences and incidental behaviors become noticeable, until Joe is being accused of abusing alcohol or taking drugs.

Muscle spasms, involuntary movement, mood swings, decreased motor function– Joe thinks it’s all because he’s getting older, and that one time he messed up his knee. A trip to the doctor begins an avalanche of specialist appointments and exams until the unexpected diagnosis is confirmed: Huntington’s Disease.

Prognosis: Fatal.

Also, hereditary. Joe has four children that he’d stand in front of a moving train to protect. Has he given them all a death sentence?

“Ruth O’Brien drank herself to death” is the mantra that has been going through Joe’s head his entire life. In one swift moment, he is forced to come to grips with not only his past, but his future and that of his children and grandchildren.

I both liked and disliked how this book focused on the entire family. Sue me, but I love Patrick. His laissez faire attitude brought some comedic humor to a grave discussion and also brought humanity to to the story. It stopped being about a man dying of a disease and it became about a family coping with the inevitable and how life has to go on. While I was supremely more interested in Joe’s decline, the book focused a lot on Katie and her decision/indecision to be tested for the Huntington’s gene. As the youngest, Katie had so much more future to determine and some big decisions to make, some of which may hinge on a diagnosis.

Without giving away anything, there were a few scenes that really struck me, specifically the sayings on katie’s wall and how the entire family pitched in something to bring her peace, as well as the final scene in the book. That image of family togetherness, everyone for everyone was a nice image with which to leave her readers.

Still ALice is still my favorite Genova book but I have to say I enjoyed this one quite a bit. A lot of laughing and some crying, too.

***Spoiler Alert***

I found it curious, though… in her previous books the marriages ended. In this book, Rosie stood by her man. I wonder what that says about marriage statistics when the male is suffering from a fatal or debilitating disease. Is the husband more likely to leave when it is the wife that suffers a neurological disorder?

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