Still Alice was self-published as Lisa Genova’s debut novel in 2007. It was made into a movie in 2014, and Julianne Moore won the Best Actress academy award the following year. I bought the book in 2014 and then did not read it until now. I was afraid of being sad, especially in light of my husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis. I still haven’t seen the movie, but now I am free to watch it since I have read the book. I am glad I finally read this lovely, heart-breaking glimpse of Alzheimer’s disease.
Still Alice is told through the viewpoint of Alice Howland, a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics. She is fifty years old, married to another Harvard professor, and has three grown children. When she begins to forget things and gets lost while running in Harvard Square, she chalks it up to menopause. Finally, she sees her doctor and then goes in for neurological testing. She is stunned to learn she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. At this point, she has told no one about the diagnosis and continues to teach at Harvard, with undesired consequences.
Because of her young age, she realizes what is happening and what will happen to her. She sends herself a daily test. Once she can no longer answer the questions, she instructs her future self to commit suicide by overdose. Apparently, the overwhelming majority of early onset Alzheimer’s patients consider suicide as opposed to living a life where they lose their dignity and grip on reality.
From Alice’s viewpoint, we feel the strong emotional impact on her husband and three children. They too are faced with sacrifices in order to care for Alice. Alice’s husband, the research scientist, seems to be in denial. He comes off as a jerk in many instances. Often when her family is together they speak to each other, ignoring the fact that she can hear and understand them. Two of her children have genetic testing, and the daughter learns that she also has the gene that causes the disease. The stress is terrible on all of them.
The novel is very informative about the symptoms and progression of the disease. It is heartwrenching to follow Alice’s decline. It is an important reminder of the need for more research and prayers for better treatments. It is also an important look at how we define ourselves, and what is really important at the end. 5-Stars. Book Club Recommended.
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