March, Reviews, The Authors
Comments 2

{Still Alice} Discussion

The Bookly authors have all shared their reviews of Still Alice… and now here’s a look at their book club discussion. We hope you’ll join in and add your comments, too!


 What are your thoughts on Genova’s writing style and how she captures Alice’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease?

 

KC: I thought the book as a whole was a really fast read, and Genova’s writing style wasn’t too heavy or over-complicated. And I thought it was an interesting format… telling the entire story through Alice’s perspective. It would have been easy for her to jump to another character at the point where Alice’s memory really deteriorates. But I loved that she stuck with Alice the whole way.

KD: I think overall the writing was a bit simplistic but that suited the tone of the book. I did appreciate the little nuance that as much as Alice begrudged Lydia for not living in reality – that the further she slid into disease the more it was like Alice was an audience member watching her life as a play. Oh, they’re talking about me.

KS: On the one hand I liked her writing style because it was well-paced and easy to read. But part of me feels like she didn’t take enough time to develop the characters or show the emotional impact this disease had on both Alice and her family. I was left feeling a little empty and disconnected.

KH: I agree with all of the points you all have made. I think the point of view (Alice) of the book was a huge part of why I liked to read it, though it could at times be frustratingly sad. It was hard to sit back and know something about the character telling the story that she herself didn’t know. Kat, I do understand the difficulty you had with the book though. I think that some of the character development was lacking because of the perspective, and we missed some of the emotional and “insider” information from some of the other characters (i.e., what the heck, John?!)


What was something new you learned about Alzheimer’s disease from this book? Do you think of it differently now?

 

KC: As someone who’s experienced the disease firsthand, this book still taught me a lot about the disease. Specifically relating to how although someone loses their memories, they haven’t lost themselves necessarily. While someone with this disease loses a lot, they’re still capable of opinions and feelings. I think sometimes as observers of the disease we forget that.

KS: Never having any first-hand experience with Alzheimer’s, I learned a lot about what this disease really does to a person. For example, the fact that it eventually eats away at your brain in a way that leaves you unable to feed yourself or walk properly. You literally forget how to do everything.

KH: Though I have not had any personal contact with a person with Alzheimer’s, I am familiar with the disease and the prognosis/progression through friends who have firsthand experience. However, it is one thing to hear about it, and another to really spend the time thinking and learning about it. I think what stood out to me most was how little control the person with the disease has over their own life and how much they eventually need to depend on caregivers.


Do you think John’s reaction to Alice’s struggles was fair?

 

KC: Nope. John made me so mad! I know it’s hard to stand by someone as they go through something this traumatic. Sometimes it’s harder on the families and friends than it is on the patient. But come on! In my opinion he was just plain selfish.

KD: As a physician, I perhaps see disease different from many others. Perhaps it’s because I have had time to let what disease means to marinate being surrounded by it daily. Perhaps it’s because understanding its ever present effects on my patients and their family is as crucial to managing disease as lab values, imaging tests, and medications. In an attempt to simplify an enormously difficult and far more complicated concept (that I admittedly have only scratched the surface of) I will just say this – a diagnosis is more than just an identification of disease; it is a notion that alters one’s place in a societal construct. It is the “scarlet A.” It is an identity of sorts that is bestowed upon those with ailments that inherently alters the way said person is perceived within society. This is no longer Alice, my neighbor. She is Alice, my neighbor with Alzheimer’s. Every decision Alice makes, every experience Alice has is now viewed in a different light. Your neighbor with Alzheimer’s walked her dog down the street today on “borrowed time” or as an “inspiring” f-you to Alzheimer’s. I walk my dog down the street and no one I know would care (except perhaps my dog).

In this sense, Alzheimer’s is far more nebulous than a list of signs and symptoms. It intertwines itself into one’s life taking liberties both physical and emotional extending its reach to loved ones as it grows. John is no longer a loving husband, father and scientist. John’s wife has Alzheimer’s. As much as the disease is Alice’s: her physical and mental faculties, her memories, her freedom being stripped away. The disease is also John’s as his identity changes and as the wife he loves and future he’s hoped for slips away. John also wears a “scarlet A” of a man with a wife who is gone but whose physical being haunts him. While he certainly is not blameless, he is human. Was he fair? No, but nothing about this story is fair.

KH: John’s character was very frustrating. I kept wanting him to do something for Alice while she was still aware that he was doing it (e.g., spend time with her, not take the job in New York). On the one hand, I couldn’t believe he could seem so cold, but on the other hand, we don’t really get to know anything about what he’s thinking, so maybe his heart was in the right place but his actions didn’t show it.

KS: I have to say, I LOVED KD’s answer because it’s such a unique perspective and falls really in line with how I felt about John’s character. As someone with a chronic illness, I know firsthand the effects a serious diagnosis has on the patient’s family. While I certainly wished he was a bit more supportive at times, I could sympathize with how he handled the situation. He was thrust into an entirely new world – one where his wife was taken away from him and the life he had planned for was gone. It can be hard to know how one would react when in a similar situation and I think his obvious frustration and anger is something that’s very understandable.


Did you find this story hopeful or tragic?

 

KC: It was hard to read, that’s no surprise. But reading the story from Alice’s perspective left me hopeful. As frightened as she was, she found moments of happiness. And she forgot she was even sick. As sad as memory loss is, I felt comforted in the fact that Alice forgot she was sick and therefore wasn’t afraid and found contentment in her new reality.

KD: I would say hopeful but hopeful on this book’s impact. I hope that it will shed some light on the dark little secret of Alzheimer’s – that it isn’t just a disease of the elderly.

KH: It was a little bit of both. It is tragic to read about someone who can have their life change so quickly, and later on not even realize the change. It was hard to read while thinking about those I know who have been through this. However, like KC said, it gave me hope that Alice was still able to be happy and that her family seemed to be able to be happy with her. I, too, hope that the popularity of this book and the movie raise awareness and provide incentive for research.

KS: I’m not sure I found it hopeful, but maybe comforting? It was nice to see that despite all of Alice’s struggles, she still had moments of happiness and was also somewhat unaware – especially as the disease progressed – of what was happening to her. I also hope this book helps bring more attention to Alzheimer’s and the need for more research.


 Have you seen the movie, how does it compare?

 

KC: Honestly, after reading the book I thought the movie would be too hard to watch. I think I need a breather before seeing it on-screen.

KD: I agree with KC. I’d rather watch something a little more upbeat. (But KC maybe it has a blooper reel!)
KC: I DO love a good blooper reel! I hope those make a comeback soon.

KH: I haven’t, but I will!

KS: I haven’t, and after reading the book I think I’m more likely to. I’m wondering if seeing what she (and her family) goes through will have a more emotional impact on me than reading it did.


{If you’re interested in learning more about life with Alzheimer’s disease, research in the field, and/or what you do to help, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website}

And we’d love to hear what you thought!
Add to our discussion in the comment box below…

2 Comments

  1. Margaret says

    I did cry at certain parts of the book that brought back the memory of my mother-in-law struggling with this disease in the late 80s. No one could seem to diagnosis her. She went from doctor to doctor and was given every diagnosis from manic depression to hypochondriac. I look back now and realized how much she suffered with the lack of information at the time.
    Still Alice shows the early stages which are not pretty but pale by the comparison to late stage Alzheimer’s. It was a very painful way to see someone go.
    This book did give me hope that the understanding of the disease is making some progress, although too slow for those faced with the diagnosis.
    All in all I think it was a good read. It combined a clinical and personal approach to Alzheimer’s which was rare to capture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: April Book Announcement | The Bookly Club

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