Thursday, July 11, 2013

Still Alice by Lisa Genova


Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
293 pages
Pocket Books, 2009
source: personal copy

Summary (from Goodreads):
Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children - sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. She has taken the route for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Medical consults reveal early-onset Alzheimer's.

Alice's slowly but inevitably loses memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. Genova's debut shows the disease progression through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so readers feel what she feels - a slowly building terror.

My thoughts:
Still Alice is a devastatingly sad  portrayal of early onset Alzheimer's told from the point of view of the victim - in this case a 50 year old Harvard professor, wife, and mother of three. Alice's character is so real, the reader seems to experience her decline as well as her family's struggle to cope.

I suggested Still Alice  to my book club a couple of years ago, but it was rejected on the possibility of being "too depressing".  It took a while, but I decided to read it and see for myself. Let me tell you, I literally sobbed toward the end of the book.

There is much in this novel to discuss with a group and it begs for sharing of personal stories, but now that I've read it,  I probably will not suggest it again.  Instead, I will mention it during the time reserved for additional reading recommendations.

While Alice's story is so immediate and informative, the writing struck me as utilitarian and, at times, almost clunky. I marked some passages for ideas, but found no quotes to share. However, the novel is important to raise understanding and awareness of early onset Alzheimer's, the disease in general, and its impact on both victims and family members.

Bottom line: 
Still Alice is a novel to be read for the story, with allowances made for the writing.

My rating:

39 comments:

  1. This one just broke my heart. I actually suggested it for my book club too!

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    1. Melissa - My group generally stays away from anything too long, too "hard", or too depressing.

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    2. Melissa - My book club seems to avoid books that are too long, too "hard", or too depressing.

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  2. While the story is an important one, I found the details too pat and the writing too clunky. Harvard professor? Really? It's like the author is trying up the tragic factor by making the protagonist come from such learned stock. I think I remember also giving it three stars. I have Left Neglected on my TBR shelf but I'm not in a hurry to get to it.

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    1. Trish - I know what you mean. Doubt I'll be reading her other books.

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  3. I own this one but haven't been able to bring myself to read it. It just sounds so sad and what you said about clunky... maybe it's a bit too clinical?

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    1. Ti - The book is incredibly sad and it's obviously written by someone with a scientific background, but I'm not sure I'd call it too clinical.

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  4. This is the main reason why I stopped going to my book club after so many years. Too many members seemed to have a great fear of reading anything that would make them feel bad.

    I'm not saying one should always read books with sad endings, but one should not never read books with sad endings either.

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    1. James - I agree! It seems like my book club has gotten into a rut with our selections... nothing too depressing, too hard, too long, etc. I'm thinking of proposing monthly themes at our fall meeting - designating a month for classics, nonfiction, short story collections, works in translation, a novella for the holiday season, etc. Maybe that will infuse some life back into the group.

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    3. James,
      I know exactly what you mean and feel the same concern about book groups and BOOK BLOGS. I sometimes sense that I can actually feel when book bloggers are holding back in their reviews, for fear of disturbing readers.

      Sometimes I feel we need to be bold about our views and our statements, while hoping that our readers understand that the point of view each of us express is our viewpoint alone and not meant to be a blanket condemnation of a book, or a swept-away approval of a book--just our opinion, end of story.

      Thanks for your comment. I resonated with it!

      Judith


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  5. I'd find it hard to read this, but the question of what people feel when they're going through this is very close to my heart.

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    1. Audrey - I'm sure the same would be true for a few of my book club members, too. This book is unique in being told from the sufferer's perspective..yet very painful for so many to read.

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  6. Hi, JoAnn,
    I own a copy of Still Alice. It is prominent on my TBR pile, but I'm dreadfully afraid of reading it. In addition to the elders who have had Alzheimer's in my family, I fear that I will one day succumb. And then, there is the fact that my husband has some cognitive deterioration due to his MS. I think dementia is a fact in the lives of many older adults, and it's hard to face, whether the deterioration occurs in our family members, our older friends, or ourselves (in the future).

    Even if it's clunky, I will read it. Do you know the film starring Julie Christie, in which she plays an older woman with progressive dementia? I've wanted to see that film, but again, I'm afraid.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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    1. Judith - I had to google the name of the film (Away From Her), but can tell you it's one I've been avoiding for years. As you say, dementia is so common, and yet so hard to face. Still Alice offers an interesting perspective on this subject and I am glad to have read it.

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  7. "the writing struck me as utilitarian and, at times, almost clunky"
    I felt the same way about "Left Neglected." Genova knows her subjects, seems to have good stories and that seems to be enough but imagine what they could do to your heart if she were really a writer, first and foremost?!

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    1. Lisa - You're right, Genova's stories and knowledge translate into perfectly good novels. Yet I can't help but feel Still Alice could have been so much more. I doubt I will read Left Neglected.

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  8. This book scares me and I haven't been able to read it yet! I loaned it to my SIL and she said she couldn't put it down, but it was incredibly sad. Just thinking about the book makes me want to go eat some blueberries and do a crossword puzzle, just in case it really helps prevent Alzheimer's!

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    1. Shelley - This book was in my tbr pile for over two years, so I guess I must have been avoiding it, too. Once I actually started reading, it only took two or three evenings to finish...but so horribly sad! Bring on the blueberries and crosswords!!

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  9. I have had this book on my shelf for quite some time--and kind of forgot about it until now. It sounds like a worthwhile book to me!
    *smiles*

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    1. Kim - Definitely worthwhile, but oh so sad...

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  10. I want to read this one, but am waiting for a happier time!

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    1. Stacybuckeye - This is such a sad book... not sure you can ever prepare for this one.

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  11. I read this nearly 5 years ago, but recall feeling like I was reading NF. I did enjoy it though.

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    1. Diane - I did enjoy it, but was expecting to like it more than I did. I know what you mean about it having a nonfiction feeling.

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  12. I sobbed like a MANIAC when I read this. Whew.

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    1. Jennifer - Me, too... it's been ages since I cried like that at a book!!

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  13. I think I'm content just to read your review. Thanks for sharing this very real issue. Have you seen the Oscar nominated movie Away From Her based on Alice Munro's short story? Julie Christie plays a wife falling into the abyss of Alzeimer's, Sarah Polley directs. Just in case you might want to see a visualized version.

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    1. Arti - I thought of that movie as I was reading... it may be too sad for me though.

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  14. I really loved this book. I read it right after my Grandpa passed away from complications due to Alzheimer's.

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    1. Staci - I know this is a book that strikes many people at such a deep level. My grandmother and MIL suffered from this horrible disease, too.

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  15. I really loved this book and it struck a deep chord within me. I have her other books still to read!!

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    1. Staci - PS I'm still trying to decide about her other books.

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  16. I found this very moving too when I read it. I thought her next book Left Neglected was touching too, but I haven't read her third yet.

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    1. Lindsay - I was very impressed with Genova's understanding of the subject and her portrayal of Alice, but was underwhelmed with the writing. Still trying to decide whether I'll read her other books.

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  17. When I read this book awhile ago I was so caught up in the story that I didn't notice "the clunky writing." I thought it was brilliant that the author tackled this subject and shows from inside the mind of Alice what it was like to have this dreaded disease, and so young! I too sobbed at the end. It hits too close to home. Not b/c I am worried about getting Alzeheimer's, but b/c your life can change in a moment and we take so much for granted. Thanks for reviewing.

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    1. Brenda - Telling the story from Alice's perspective is what makes this such a unique novel... and I don't think I've ever sobbed like that while reading a book before. Very true that life can change in a moment. Each day is a gift.

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  18. I agree with you and was glad to read you felt the same way about this book. Now it is a film and Julianne Moore is getting raves. Her performance will probably make the story even more heartbreaking. Still Alice started out as a self-published book.

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    1. Alexandra - I didn't realize Still Alice started out as a self-published book, but I'm not surprised. Still need to watch the movie with Julianne Moore. Thanks for your comment.

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