Still Alice by Lisa Genova (400 pages)
Prominent scholar Alice Howland is diagnosed with and suffers the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Narrated from her perspective, it chronicles her navigation of her changing circumstances and the ways in which those close to her respond to her ranging from sympathy and consideration to revulsion and rejection. It presents an inside view of an unfortunately common disease, doing an admirable job of portraying the degeneration of mental powers without losing intelligibility. (from Goodreads.com)
An emotional roller coaster – that was the description agreed to by all regarding this book. We experience the highs of 50-years young Alice – beloved and respected professor, married to an equal, three successful children (or at least trying to be), admired by colleagues and friends, physically healthy, on top of her game. From such lofty heights we plummet with Alice into the world of early-onset Alzheimer’s, sharing her denial, disbelief, shock, rage and then her coping mechanisms. We celebrated her attempts to successfully maneuver down this dark path and cringed at each instance of the darkness further enveloping Alice’s mind and body.
All agreed that the book was beautifully and poignantly written, and sympathized greatly with Alice. All of the members have been touched by someone experiencing dementia or falling victim to Alzheimer’s. But few knew anyone afflicted by early-onset strains of the disease, and generally it raised the level of discomfort among all of us (mostly middle-aged or approaching middle-age) who have forgotten why we entered a room, where we have left our keys, or the name of someone with whom we are so familiar.
We discussed the measures we would take or would want to have taken on our behalf if we were so challenged. To what extent would we want our families’ and friends’ lives to be altered by our diagnosis? Naturally, all agreed that they’d not want to live with such a disease, but unfortunately it is not ours to decide who is afflicted. The author explored Alice’s evolving relationships with husband, children, friends and work associates as each person acknowledged Alice’s illness and coped with it with varying degrees of success while trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy for all.
The book infused in the readers a thankfulness for the day-to-day joys we experience and of which we are cognizant, tinged with the thought that “there but for the grace of God, go I”.
The group rates each book on a scale of 1-10. The ratings were upper-mid-range to a high of 10. The mid-range ratings reflected the emotional discomfort experienced by the reader for the reasons mentioned above rather than being a reflection of the excellent story or the sensitivity with which the story was told. This reviewer’s rating of 10 was precisely because of the book’s gripping emotion and thought-provoking content.