Still Alice

No, I have not seen the movie, though I intend to at some point. I picked up this book because Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her performance. I had not heard of the book until then and I’m glad I found it. It is a book that stays with you long after you read the last page and place it on the shelf.

The book follows the story of Alice, a Ph.D. in Linguistics who teaches at Harvard. She is barely 50 years old, has three grown kids, a husband, and is at the pinnacle of her career. This is when she finds out that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. It starts slowly. Alice forgets words and replaces them with other words. She gets disoriented and lost while running a route she has run for years. She is diagnosed and does not immediately believe it. Her husband, also a Harvard professor, is, quite frankly, a jerk. I’m not sure if he is intended to be a jerk or if he just evolved that way as he was being written, but I really, really did not like him. He showed very little sympathy for Alice and for her condition.

At one point, Alice writes a set of three questions. She tells herself at the bottom of the questions that if she gets the answers wrong, she is to go to her computer and open a file entitled “Butterfly”. The file carries instructions for Alice to kill herself with a drug overdose if she cannot recall the answers. The question is will Alice know what to do by the time she can’t answer the questions? And, how long will it be before she answers the questions wrong? Part of the brilliance of this book lies in letting the reader figure this out on their own.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. It’s a scary, sad disease. Lisa Genova writes about it so beautifully. You feel for Alice. You feel for her family (except her jerky husband) and you understand the devastation the diagnosis leaves in its wake, not just for the person diagnosed, but for those who care about them.

Another thing I love about this book is that it is written from Alice perspective. Talk about an unreliable narrator. She tells us things the way she sees/feels/experiences them. Whether that is what really happened, you do not know. And I really liked that about this book. There is no surprising plot twist – it’s not that kind of book. It is the story of how one woman deals with being diagnosed with a devastating, incurable disease at a young age. You get to live Alice’s mental decline as she does. It is a very sympathetic portrayal and I truly adored this book.

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