Still Alice


I can't remember the last time I read a book and cried nearly every page. Lisa Genova doesn't mess around; Still Alice goes right for the jugular. Alice is a Harvard psychology professor in her 50s, happily married with three adult children. She has all of the typical stresses of life, but one additional stress begins to show itself on page one: she has early onset Alzheimer's disease. The novel takes readers on an undiluted journey into the tangles of how complicated the brain, memory, family, and love can be, especially when they are taken away.

I give Lisa Genova huge props for writing the book the way she did. It starts in the thick of the action: we know by the second page that Alice has begun to forget things. There's nothing more annoying than a book where the plot is stated in the first line of the cover flap or the back of the book then the author spends twenty (or two hundred, in some cases) pages leading the reader toward the Earth-shattering revelation that the reader has known since before even opening the book. Also, Genova finishes the book when the book is finished. Alzheimer's is a degenerative, terminal disease; it's not a surprise how Alice's story will end. But, by the time the conclusion arrives, the reader finds that there is more irony than truth in the title. The ending is satisfying, the journey worthwhile.

The hardest part about this novel is learning all about Alice, beginning to love her, and then having to let her go.Genova uses an odd first person/omniscient mishmash point of view, in which Alice begins to report observations about herself that she is not able to internalize or understand in her condition. This creates an omniscience that allows readers to truly understand the clinical aspects of Alice's condition while still being fully impacted by being in Alice's head.

Author Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, and there's little on this earth I love more than doctors who can also write. Ethan Canin, Pauline W. Chen, and now Lisa Genova-there is a special kind of magic that happens on the page when science and creativity bloom together. There's an attention to detail, a cutting away of extraneous “fluff,” and insight into the human condition most of us normal folk simply don't get to see. Still Alice shows the ugly side to Alzheimer's, but not in an ugly way; her journey is eloquent, educated, and real, in the way that only a writer who also has a scientific detachment can carry off.

Rather than be a self-pitying and flowery (not to mention lengthy) narrative of “what happens to people with Alzheimer's,” this novel begins and ends as Alice's story. Very plain, very simple. The language, plot, character and style carry through just as modestly, yet the emotion created is raw and complex. It's a book I will return to again.

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