Sunday, July 11, 2010

STiLL ALiCE by Lisa Genova


She looked at the rows of books and periodicals on her bookcase, the stack of final exams to be corrected on her desk, the emails in her inbox, the red, flashing voice-mail light on her phone. She thought about the books she'd always wanted to read, the ones adorning the top shelf in her bedroom, the ones she figured she'd have time for later. Moby-Dick. She had experiments to perform, papers to write, and lectures to give and attend. Everything she did and loved, everything she was, required language. (p. 73-74)
Still reeling from just finishing Still Alice, a novel more frightening than anything Stephen King could conjure up, and he's pretty darn scary.

But nothing imagined is more terrifying than what's real, and the idea of losing one's memory, and along with it one's very self, is beyond horrific.

The character, Alice, is six months older than I. She's taught for twenty six years, as have I, only she's a professor of linguistic studies at Harvard. She gives international speeches, she guides post-doctoral studies, and she's forgetting things.

While running during her daily routine she completely forgets where she is. When introduced to a woman at a party, she promptly asks who she is after returning to the group with a glass of wine. Who she is, and where she belongs, is becoming more and more confusing, but it isn't due to the typical symptoms of menopause. Or, stress. She is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's disease.
"Okay, Alice, can you spell the word water backwards for me?" he asked.

She would have found this question trivial and even insulting six months ago, but today, it was a serious question to be tackled with serious effort. She felt only marginally worried and humiliated by this, not nearly as worried and humiliated as she would've felt six months ago. More and more, she was experiencing a growing distance from her self-awareness. Her sense of Alice-what she knew and understood, what she liked and disliked, how she felt and perceived-was also like a soap bubble, ever higher in the sky and more difficult to identify, with nothing but the thinnest lipid membrane protecting it from popping into thinner air. (p. 242)
The novel focuses on the effects it has on her, but also on her husband and children. The family must learn how to cope with the needs that Alice has and the new person she's become. It is a heartbreaking, yet ultimately endearing, journey for all of us to witness.

I hope I never forget it. Or, its lessons.

30 comments:

  1. I agree, the prospect of losing one's self to Alzheimer's is far more terrifying than events in most horror novels. I've heard a lot of good about this book and intend to read it at some point. It definitely sounds like an important one!

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  2. My father is 90 years old and is starting to suffer from dementia and it's heartbreaking, so I can only imagine what Alzheimer's would be like. My father still recognizes everyone but will ask over and over and over where we live, how far away it is, where he is, etc. Sometimes, we have to laugh to keep from crying.

    I'm sure this book is very powerful and would make me cry buckets of tears.

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  3. Oh, how this book affected me! The author put a face on this horrid disease and scared the hell out of me. It reads more like a memoir than a novel, don't you think?

    I'm surprised I didn't include that first quote in my review. Oh, to never be able to read all those books I've stashed in the house, let alone lose everything I love.

    Heartbreaking, indeed.

    BTW, Lisa sent me a very nice email, which I've included in my comments. I still need to watch the HBO special.

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  4. I suggested this to my book club a few months ago, but it wasn't selected - "too depressing, too scary". I still want to read it though.

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  5. A friend just mentioned this book to me yesterday (her dad is starting to lose his memory) and it sounds so good and interesting

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  6. I'm sure everyone is tired of hearing my advocacy of this book. It was such a eye-opening experience for me when I read it. I wrote about my experience and my book club's experience in March of this year on my blog. There is a reason that Alzheimer's support groups everywhere suggest this book as a great resource for families. As the caretaker of two parents with Alzheimer/dementia issues, I cannot say enough about the message it imparts. And yet, I included these sentences in my review of it and I beg your indulgence as I reprint them here:

    Amazingly enough, even though their declines have been full of dark, dark clouds, some of them have silver linings. Joy occurs in the most unexpected places. Truly.


    And I believe that with all my heart. I'm still very emotional about all of this, but if you haven't read this book and if anyone in your family is diagnosed with these issues, pick up this book. It's really important.

    Off my soapbox now. :-)

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  7. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks in June, and I think it made me go crazy. I started imagining all kinds of horrible things that might happen to me as I grow older (I'm still in my twenties!), and the thought of Alzheimer's crossed my mind. I don't think I've ever been more scared!

    While this book sounds incredible (and scary), I really don't think I can deal with it right now. Maybe in a few months, once I forget the events of last month - or well, not forget, but... you know what I mean?

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  8. This book does sound incredibly terrifying. It's always been believed that by constantly exercising your brain by reading and writing, that you can prevent these things...but sadly, the reality is that these things are uncontrollable. The book sounds amazing, and incredibly sad as well.

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  9. Yes, I think this would be far "scarier than anything Stephen King could conjure up." Which is why it is still sitting off to the side, a hand-me-down that I am afraid to try on...
    You make me see how necessary this book is, however, so perhaps I'll slip in an arm.
    Thank you.

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  10. Wow! This book sounds terrifying, but completely necessary to read. I can't even begin to imaging what families must go through when dealing with this and especially the person that it is happening to as we read about with this book. I will definitey be adding this book to my TBR list. Thanks for this post Bellezza.

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  11. You write so beautifully Bellezza. With that review alone, I can tell how this book will leave a mark on whoever reads it.

    Alzheimer is in the family. I'm scared for myself and for my father and for my future kids. It's not something I can just forget and laugh about.

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  12. Ooooh this does sound like its good. My great uncle has Alzheimers so any books with that as a story line always interest me. This one sounds rather different so will have to look it up at the library.

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  13. Wow, this one does sound like a mightily difficult read. A good one, but very difficult.

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  14. You are right, this book is frightening. I don't know too much about Alzheimers so when I read this book earlier this year I was just shocked by the little things you wouldn't think the illness would affect but does. It's heartbreaking.

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  15. Thanks for the review, Bellezza! I will add this book to my wishlist. The story reminds me of the movie 'Iris' where Judi Dench played the role of the author Iris Murdoch so beautifully.

    Memory is such a beautiful and amazing thing isn't it - when it is at its best, our life is rich and beautiful, but we also remember painful events from our past. When memory falters, the painful events are gone but so is the rich life, which makes it scary. It makes me think that beauty and pain can only coexist with each other and we can't have one without the other...

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  16. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer and then the same happened to my boyfriend's grandmother. Alzheimer is such a difficult disease. I often imagine what it must feel like to realise that you are going to forget more and more in time. And it's extremely difficult for the family as well. I am not all that sure if I could deal with a book like this at the moment, it all being a little too personal right now, but I'm sure it makes a very disturbing but interesting read. I once read a book on Alzheimer by a Dutch author and he left me feeling like I was forgetting things myself.

    Totally unrelated: I wanted to thank you for your very kind comment that you're happy to have come across my blog. I am very happy to have "met" you as well!

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  17. I enjoyed this book very very much.
    It really gave you the experience of what it feels like to have this terrible disease.

    I also see you are reading one of my husband's favorite authors, OE.

    I am enjoying stopping by everyone's blog on the Parisian tour.

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  18. Bellezza, I'm so glad you read this. I recommend it to people who ask about Mom.

    Also the Time Travelers Wife -- for reasons I can't reveal to those who haven't read it, but which you'll understand. Pat "shows up" briefly unpredictably, in our lives...

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  19. I think as we age, and those of us who are around our age especially, Kevin, are finding our parents with increasing fragilities. It's hard to see anyone suffer, or change, yet we'll all diminish as we grow older. The important thing to remember is that the bonds of family never weaken, even when our physical strength does.

    Your mom knows what you do, Kevin, on some level, and you will be blessed for it. xoxo

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  20. I just finished this book and found it absolutely heartbreaking.
    It was all so sad.

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  21. I'm not sure if I want to read this or not. My Grandmother had Alzheimer's and it was truly a long goodbye and so heartbreaking. The disease struck her in old age. I can't imagine early onset. Terrifying.

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  22. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to lose one's memory and identity, particularly for someone who relied so heavily on language and intellect. Sounds like a very touching book. Wonderful review!

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  23. I have this one on my shelf for the day when I feel strong enough to read it. Having seen several loved ones go through this process of losing their memories and their minds it just hits too close to home. I can't think of anything worse that can happen to me as I get older. I have heard really good things about this book though and will read it when I am ready.

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  25. I´m not sure how long I´ll need to brace myself to read something like this. It is terrifying! Especially since language is also the biggest part of my life.

    Perhaps if one manages to distance oneself from Alice, there is a lot to explore about the connection of memory and identity in this book.

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  26. I LOVED this book as well. Painfully beautiful.

    BTW...Be careful of those TRICK Asian commenters. If you click on the link in your comments, it goes to a porn site. I noticed they spammed me like that but I rejected the comment!

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  27. Diane, I know! I delete them as fast as I can get to them, but the're onto me with my Japanese Literature Challenge(s). That's one thing WordPress did better than Blogger: block the spam!

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  28. Oooh, sounds really affecting! Now I really need to get this book :)

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  29. I just stumbled across your blog on the Literary Blog Hop and I saw that you've read Still Alice, which I have been wanting desperately ever since I saw it in the store the other day. Alzheimer's has been a very real issue in my family, which is why I feel like I NEED to read this book to understand what family members have gone through and what I may go through myself one day. Glad to hear that it's so powerful - I will definitely be getting it.

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