Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.
We’re sorry to lose Cynthia, who is discontinuing her blog.
Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
* * *
Lisa Genova has certainly identified her niche, which is, with her knowledge of neuroscience, to write a compelling story that also allows readers to understand what it is like to suffer from a neurological disease. In this novel, the disease is ALS.
After a difficult divorce, Karina and Richard have had little to do with each other. Both are harboring a great deal of anger and resentment.
Richard, a world-class pianist, has put his career ahead of his marriage and family. However, he has been diagnosed with ALS and is becoming less able to care for himself.
Karina has avoided the friends the two had as a couple, but she finally attends an event and feels she is being blamed for the breakup. It is there she learns about Richard’s condition. She goes to see him, but the visit is toxic.
Eventually, though, she visits him again, only to find that even with home health care, he needs help, round-the-clock care. He broke with his family years ago, so he has no one. Karina arranges for him to move in with her.
Although at times I felt that some of the descriptions of the illness or the treatment were a little too detailed, I was ultimately very touched by this novel. Genova gives herself a tougher job this time by making the patient a less likable character, but she handles the situation insightfully.
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
This is a novel that saves some of its insights into Karina’s character for the end. We know that both Karina and Richard are angry with each other, but it is much clearer why Karina is angry than why Richard is until well into the novel, so I don’t see how I can discuss this without spoilers.
The immediate causes of the breakup of their marriage seem to be Richard’s serial infidelities and his neglect of Karina and daughter Grace over a period of years. However, as the novel progresses, we learn of Karina’s contribution to the failure of their marriage. First, she changed from classical piano, in which she was more gifted than Richard, to jazz piano, partly because she loved jazz but partly so as to not compete with Richard. She made a place for herself playing in clubs in New York, but then Richard took a position in Boston without consulting her, and there was no jazz scene in Boston.
Passive aggressively, Karina made excuses for herself not to try to continue her career—pregnancy, motherhood, resentment of Richard—and then more resentment as he began neglecting them and womanizing. Finally, there is the aggressive act of making sure she can’t conceive while pretending to try to conceive.
What makes the novel more than a litany of marriage complaints is how the situation causes both characters to understand the other, to acknowledge their own faults and trespasses, and to forgive.