Still Alice

2153405Still Alice

by Lisa Genova

At age fifty, Alice Howland holds an enviable position as a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard, as well as an impressive reputation in linguistics.  She has led an incredibly successful life along with her husband and is the mother of three grown children.  But as her memory begins to deteriorate and she becomes increasingly disoriented, a devastating diagnosis sends her life spiraling downwards as she gradually loses touch with her family and the rest of the world.

Still Alice was a deeply moving story that I couldn’t put down.  I had watched the movie several years before and enjoyed it, but as is usually the case, I found the book to be better.  The author methodically laid out the progression of Alice’s condition, from her life as an intellectually brilliant woman with a prestigious position at Harvard, to the moment she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, to her increasing struggles with daily activities as the rapidly progressing disease destroys her mind.  Alice was so realistic that I could feel her frustration and desperation and wondered how I myself would react if I were in her position.  It is interesting to note that Genova used Alice as the narrator despite the fact that her memory grows increasingly unreliable.  This approach makes it easier for the reader to identify with her and better understand the terrifying reality of her situation.

In sections comprised only of conversation between two characters, Genova often chose to simply write alternating lines of dialogue without indicating the speaker.  This is a common enough technique that reduces the repetitive use of “he said” and “she said”.  Authors indicate the speaker every so often, at the same time offering additional information, such as the character’s tone of voice, body language, or facial expression.  However, Genova rarely inserted any of these details, causing me to feel as if I was unable to see the characters’ faces when they spoke.  I rather liked this effect, and it left me with more freedom in imagining what the characters looked like at the moment based on their spoken words.

I would recommend this book for both older and younger readers, although the younger readers may benefit from discussing with the parents some of the themes of the story as well as the book’s importance.  There were a few instances where profanity was used and a very brief sexual reference was made in passing, found in the chapter detailing the events of December 2003.  Overall, however, the book was clean.  Still Alice is a beautiful story that raises awareness of early-onset Alzheimer’s patients and the obstacles they face, and serves as a reminder that ultimately, we are far more than simply our memories.

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