I liked this book a lot.
I’m hesitant to say loved, it’s not really the kind of story you can love (let’s be honest, it’s sad). But I really enjoyed Genova’s writing style, the characters and the way she told Alice’s story.
It’s hard for me to separate my experience reading this book from my experience with Alzheimer’s disease. So first I’ll share a bit about my experience…
I’ve witnessed the disease first-hand. A member of my family suffered from Alzheimer’s years ago. I was younger than 10 when she passed-away (if I remember correctly). But she’d been gone a long time by then. The hardest part of it all was to watch her forget the people around her. Her own children even. I think Alzheimer’s is uniquely cruel in that regard. It’s hard enough to watch someone you love struggle with illness, it’s especially vicious when the disease takes away any memory of the love you share.
Given my experience, this book was a difficult read. But I knew that going in. I think ultimately it made me more hopeful than sad. I love that Genova stayed with Alice the whole way through… she never strayed to someone else’s perspective. And the story she told left me comforted, in a way. Alice could still find happiness. She never forgot what it was to live. Who knows, maybe it’s because this story isn’t nearly as dark as experiencing the real thing? But I didn’t find Alice’s story as desperate as I thought I would.
Also, I think Genova was able to make Alice relatable on many different levels. Sure, I’m now second-guessing myself every time I walk into a room and forget why I’m there (am I showing early symptoms?). But there were other human elements to Alice’s story that I related to, strongly. This quote for example jumped right of the page and hit me head-on:
“She had no classes to teach, no grants to write, no new research to conduct, no conferences to attend, and no invited lectures to give. Ever again. She felt like the biggest part of her self, the part she’s praised and polished regularly on its mighty pedestal had died. And the other, smaller, less admired parts of her self wailed with self-pitying grief, wondering how they would matter at all without it.”
I’m at a point in my life where this just about says it all. When your career takes on a new look, things don’t turn out according to plan, or you turn down an unexpected path, then what? Who are you now? What do you do? I think that was the bigger message for me… Alice, at her core, didn’t change, she just had to readjust. That’s why I LOVED the ending. It was so perfect that the book ends with Lydia eager for her mother’s opinion. Alice said all along that she’s still herself, she still holds thoughts and opinions. She still holds value. Alzheimer’s doesn’t take everything.