Best Book of the Week!
Still Alice is the sometimes harrowing but always compassionate story of a woman diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Alice Howland regards her life as nearly perfect. At 50 years old, she is a tenured cognitive psychology professor at Harvard who speaks regularly at conferences. Her husband is an important research scientist also at Harvard. She has three adult children. Her only regret is a feeling of loss of the closeness she once had with her husband John. She feels his lab is more important than she is.
Alice begins noticing small little lapses. She occasionally forgets a word or loses something. She puts this down to natural aging until one day when she is on her way home from a run and suddenly gets lost. She is only confused for a few minutes but is disturbed by the incident. After she forgets to go to one of her conferences, she visits a doctor and eventually gets her diagnosis.
What makes this novel unusual is that we see Alice’s deterioration from her own point of view. She understands what is happening to her until she doesn’t. In her case, the progress of the disease is terrifyingly swift. She is diagnosed in the fall, but by the spring she is receiving the only poor teaching evaluations she has ever gotten from her students. We see her loss of pride as her ability to lead her life erodes.
As an older woman, I found some of the tests she undergoes alarming, particularly one where she’s shown a picture of an object and can’t think of its name. I knew what object they were describing, and I also couldn’t think of the name for about a minute. It was a hammock. When we are older, we all have incidents like this, but I think they raise the dread of this disease sometimes. Luckily, I don’t have the gene associated with Alzheimers (although that doesn’t guarantee that I won’t get it), and I haven’t ever had any major episodes like Genova describes.
Genova’s novel makes a strong point about the lack of support for Alzheimer’s patients. She shows how Alice, because she loses language first, is unable to explain that she can still understand what’s going on, at least at times, but people behave as if she cannot.
This novel is excellent. Once you sit down with it, you won’t want to get back up until you finish it.