Alice is a brilliant, healthy 50 year-old woman, a Harvard psychology and linguistics professor who is happily married and has three grown children. She notices that she is beginning to forget things, lose words, get lost in her own town. At first, she blames it on menopause, but is soon diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The novel follows her through that next year as her condition deteriorates.
Alice’s story is devastating and Genova has made her feel so real. It’s an honest portrayal of what it must feel like to have Alzheimer’s, to know that you will eventually lose your mind, how scary it can be, how alone you can feel.
I can’t say I liked Alice. In the beginning of the book, I felt like she put her career about family, was judgmental especially toward her youngest daughter. She notices she and her husband are drifting apart, but doesn’t do anything to alter the situation. She worries that her older daughter will sabotage her career by having a child, want to force her youngest daughter into college. She never strikes me as kind or caring or loving.
And then comes Alzheimer’s and she realizes that she doesn’t have much time left with her family. She wants to spend every moment she can with them and she expects them to understand that. But they still all have their own lives. Her husband especially comes off as unfeeling, because he devotes more and more time to work, doesn’t want to stay home with her, jog with her. The whole story is from Alice’s point of view, but we know how difficult it must be for her family too, to see the woman they love disappear.
“I’m so sorry I have this. I can’t stand the thought of how much worse this is going to get. I can’t stand the thought of looking at you someday, this face I love, and not knowing who you are.”
She traced the outline of his jaw and chin and the creases of his sorely out of practice laugh lines with her hands. She wiped the sweat from his forehead and the tears from his eyes.
“I can barely breathe when I think about it. But we have to think about it. I don’t know how much longer I have to know you. We need to talk about what’s going to happen.” (pg. 100)
My favorite character was actually Alice’s youngest child, Lydia, an actress. It’s interesting that she’s the one that Alice feels farthest from in the beginning and also the one Alice forgets first. Lydia is the most helpful to her mom it seems, supporting her and trying to communicate in ways that Alice can still understand and participate in.
It is an amazing story. Genova gives us such true, vulnerable, flawed people, all trying to handle a devastating situation, and she does it beautifully. It’s a wonderful reminder to all of us that life is fragile, that we need to be aware now of who and what are truly important to us, because someday it may be too late.
A book to read with a box of tissues handy.
4 out of 5 stars
Category: Literary Fiction
Published January 6, 2009 by Pocket
Book source: Library