Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Saddest Book I've Ever Read

On Tuesday between classes, I drove home a half-hour to read more of Still Alice. This debut novel by Lisa Genova chronicles the mental deterioration of fifty year-old Alice Howland--Harvard Professor, author, wife, mother--as early-onset Alzheimer's Disease takes over her mind, her career, her marriage.

My tears plopped shamelessly onto the pages where Alice, once strong and independent, makes memory mistakes at staff meetings; as loneliness swallows her; when she attempts to rely on a preoccupied husband who's in denial.

Genova's work pits the cognitive self against the spiritual one. Alice struggles to categorize her new self between intellect, of which she'd had much, and emotion, which she is beginning to discover.

It's about one woman's search for truth--the sad, hard, complicated truth--while most of her family has given up.

After Alice makes some difficult and unsupported choices, she comes to know the youngest daughter she's never understood.

"'You're so beautiful,'" Alice tells Lydia. "'I'm so afraid of looking at you and not knowing who you are.'"

'"I think that even if you don't know who I am someday, you'll still know that I love you,'" Lydia says.

"'What if I see you, and I don't know that you're my daughter, and I don't know that you love me?'"

"'Then,'" says Lydia, "'I'll tell you that I do, and you'll believe me.'"

This work gently straddles the line between narrating and teaching. Ultimately, it is a call-to-action. For earlier diagnosis of the crippling disease, for the understanding of its victims.

"I encourage you to empower us, not limit us," Alice reads at a conference. "'Work with us. Encourage [us]...

"'My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment...I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter.'"


Lisa Genova said...

Hi Jennie,

Thank you so much for reading Still Alice and for sharing such a beautifully written review of it at your blog! I'm so glad the story moved you

Thanks for getting in touch!

Best wishes,
Lisa Genova

Shannon O'Donnell said...

One of the saddest stories I've ever read is SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS by James Patterson. It's doubly sad if you are a parent. I cried so hard that my hubby came up from downstairs - he thought I was on the phone receiving tragic news!

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent post. I love reading books that move me to tears.

Michele said...

io seguo il tuo blog se ricambi mi fa piacere
ciao Michele

Jennie Englund said...

We LOVE sad! Sad is good! Sad is feeling! Sad is depth.

Michele, grazie.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I have such a love/hate relationship with sad books. They make me blubber like an infant, but still, I'm drawn to them. This one sounds like a real tearjerker.

Sharon Mayhew said...

Thanks for the recommendation. My grandma had Alzheimer's. I've written a couple stories about her. They are more for me than anything else, but I'm definately buying STILL ALIVE!