Can Fiction Mimic True Life? – “Still Alice” :Book Review
I am conflicted about reviewing, or recommending this book despite the fact that it’s one of the best reads about living and coping with Alzheimer’s. I laughed, I cried, I lost sleep thinking about it. Though hubby was demanding dinner–I couldn’t put this book down. That’s what makes a great book…doesn’t it? Problem is–it’s fiction.
“Normally, when I recommend books for Alzheimer’s reading, I’m thinking technical, authoritarian, instruction on handling the unruly Alzheimer’s patient. Most who are looking for a book about Alzheimer’s are looking for HELP.
I read many true-life (instruction books) about dementia when my mom was diagnosed and I was totally unfamiliar with this disease. I wanted HELP!
Another surprise was that the book is written from Alice’s perspective. How can this work? I mused only a second before I continued reading more and more and more. I never knew what my mother was thinking as she struggled to remember the strange woman who stared back at her from the bathroom mirror, I thought.
Yet– I saw my mother in Alice, I heard my mother in Alice, for just a little while my mother was Alice and I could pretend that Mom had had a better understanding of her plight after diagnosis with this disease just as Alice did.
Of course, my mother wasn’t Alice and her diagnosis came when she was eighty years old, too late for her to have any real understanding of what that diagnosis meant or what she would endure because of it–
Alice, on the other hand, is a young 50 year old, accomplished psychology professor, with a successful husband and grown children. She’s achieved it all and remains a young, vibrant woman. She is not the person we expect to see when we think of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Yet that’s the diagnosis Alice received as do many others with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD.)
And because of the outstanding writing by Lisa Genova, we become entwined in Alice’s heartbreaking journey. From the early days of forgetting a single word, or name, or street until she is totally disoriented on a familiar jogging path. Of course, Alice tries to reason it away; menopause, stress, as anyone would do. She’s too young for Alzheimer’s, we think and so does she.
Fiction though it may be, everything about Alice and her family and her diagnosis “feels” real. Hearing and seeing through Alice’s senses makes it more powerful. It’s poignant to watch what happens to the family, her husband, John, and their children, Anna, Tom, Lydia. Alzheimer’s in a loved one changes everyone in the family. We all cope differently as does Alice’s family.
Much will be familiar to you in Alice’s story if you also have a loved one with Alzheimer’s. I saw my Mom’s fears and anxieties about crowds and loud noises and understood them better after reading Alice’s “point of view.” I saw the same heartbreak and devastation our family felt at the diagnosis and the same resolve we found to learn as much as we could and cope the best we knew how, just as Alice’s family did.
Author: Lisa Genova, a first-time novelist, holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.
The only regret I had about reading “Still Alice” is that it hadn’t been available all those years ago when I was searching for ways to help my own mother.