The heart-wrenching tale of 50-year-old Alice Howland and her early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis is narrated eloquently by author Lisa Genova. Alice, a successful linguistics professor at Harvard, is married to John, an equally esteemed Harvard professor, and together they have three grown children. Her biggest worry in life is her youngest daughter's move to L.A. to pursue acting until Alice starts forgetting things. It begins innocuously enough: misplacing her BlackBerry, missing unimportant appointments on her to-do list, searching her mind for tip-of-the-tongue phrases. But when she goes on her familiar daily run through Cambridge, and becomes disoriented just one mile from home, Alice knows something is terribly wrong.
A battery of tests and multiple doctor visits later, her worst nightmare is confirmed she is in the first stages of early onset Alzheimer's disease. Told from Alice's perspective, it's a frighteningly keen insight to the slow deterioration of a debilitating disease. Every nuance of pain, frustration, fear, and sorrow is captured in Genova's voice and she expertly utilizes the pregnant pause, and short, choppy sentences to convey the confusion and pain of Howland's thoughts during testing and diagnosis.
Genova's slight Boston accent lends authenticity to the story, and she doesn't oversell the emotion behind the words. Her transitions between character dialogue are smooth and subtle, but she so embodies the main character Alice, it's hard to remember that it is Genova, and not Howland herself, telling her story. Knowing its being read exactly as it was intended by the author creates an even stronger connection to the work. Equally present is the devastating effect this illness has on Alice's husband, children, and coworkers. And while there's obviously no happy ending in sight, Genova still manages to paint a story of hope, reminding listeners that even in the midst of great loss and suffering, love remains. Colleen Oakley
Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At 50 years old, she's a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life - and her relationship with her family and the world - forever.
At once beautiful and terrifying, this extraordinary debut novel by Lisa Genova is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.
©2009 Lisa Genova; (P)2009 Simon & Schuster
"After I read Still Alice, I wanted to stand up and tell a train full of strangers, 'You have to get this book.'" (Boston Globe)
"With grace and compassion, Lisa Genova writes about the enormous white emptiness created by Alzheimer's." (The Improper Bostonian)
"A masterpiece that will touch lives in ways none of us can even imagine." (Alzheimer's Daily News)
I'm ambivalent about this book. The author did a pretty good job of capturing 'key' points about what folks experience with Early Onset Alzheimers - so if you prefer a narrative over dry descriptions of what faces Alzheimer sufferers and their families - this book is for you. Yet the book misses the true challenges that face the rest of us. I titled my review "Made for TV Movie" because that's what it appears to be. Well written but superficial.
My complaint is that the author apparently had a 'check list' of points she wanted to cover, so one-by-one she checked them off. Most problems popped up long enough for the author to tell us about them - and then she moved on. The problem rarely occurred in a significant way again. For someone who supposedly suffered from significant language problems, Alice always managed to be fully articulate when necessary. Yeah, right.
Despite Alice's dark plans at one point (another check mark), she didn't really seem to mind having Alzheimer's. Sure it got in the way - but she was not upset for long about anything. There was no fear, no distrust, no chronic anxiety ... it was just a frustrating experience that could be handled and planned for.
I speak from some experience, since my own wife, Barbara has early onset Alzheimer's, although not the fast-acting genetic variety. Comparing Alice to Barbara: Barbara is three years older than Alice. She had symptoms that go back at least six years before diagnosis. Her first mention to her physician about the problems were passed over the first time she made them. It was only a year later that they took us seriously when I accompanied her to a visit, and nearly a year after that before she was diagnosed; ironically the same week as Alice.
Alice has such a perfect life. Professionally successful. Great doctors. Lightening fast diagnosis. Apparently no financial issues. No crazy legal issues. Grown children. (Barbara's were in high school). Everything was manageable except for that pesky disease and her ambitious husband. Good grief, she even got to see and know her first grandchild.
Like Alice, Barbara is loved and cared for. Unlike Alice, Barbara stays in her original home. Her husband is her full-time caregiver, while still working full time.
So nice try, Lisa. I hope you get your TV movie deal.
This is my first review after 7 years of membership listening to over 200 books. I am 64 and in good health, but this book raised profound questions for me about mortality, how to leave your family and friends when the time comes, and what to do when the time comes. I laughed and cried throughout, but now I have to figure out what I do when (if) something like this happens to me. I can't remember when a book affected me so profoundly. There are not enought stars in the rating -- it deserves 7.
So many books--so little time
Flat and monotone narration by an inappropriately juvenile, flip, teenage sounding voice. Really wish the author had not done the narration. The story is technical and told from a cold observing distance. It is a perfect example of being talked at about the story rather than seeing it unfold and develop through plot and character driven detail. The frequent use of the word "she" (almost every sentence starts with she) nearly drove me over the edge. To me the book just did not ring true. I know great numbers of listeners loved the book, I am not one of them. A much better look at the experience of Alzheimer's Disease through fiction is the book Elizabeth is Missing.
The book itself was interesting enough although a little technical in places but the narration was so bad that I was tempted to give up on the book altogether. The author's narration was flat and stilted making the reading of her dialogue especially jarring. Her voice was also too young sounding to be believable as a 50 year old woman. Some authors should simply not narrate their own work.
excellent book. my mother lived with me when she was first diagnosed w/alzheimers. i wish i had this book when she was living with me. reading this book answered unanswered questions i had. i highly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing w/a loved one who is suffering w/this awful disease. it helps us understand where they are coming from and what's going on in their minds.
I’m delighted that this novel is written by a Neuroscientist. Even though the book is fiction, the science behind the disease diagnosis & treatments is accurate; there is nothing fictitious about it. Lisa Genova also managed to put the readers into the ‘head space’ of Alice, the frustration & fear she felt as her conditions get progressively worse. Alice, a celebrated Harvard Linguistics professor, pride herself on having incredible brain power. To feel her own mental capacity steadily diminishing with each passing day, to watch the reaction & attitude of her family & colleagues whenever she’s in the room gradually eroded her confidence in anything & everything she did. The story is very engaging, however, the way Lisa reads her own book is not. Usually I love books read by the author, but in this case I think the book could have benefited from a less monotoned narrator.
One of my favorite parts of the book was shortly after Alice received her diagnosis, when her condition was not quite perceptible to others yet, Alice wished that
“… she had cancer instead. She'd trade Alzheimer's for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she'd have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she'd be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.
Alzheimer's disease was an entirely different kind of beast. There were no weapons that could slay it. Taking Aricept and Namenda felt like aiming a couple of leaky squirt guns in to the face of a blazing fire. John continued to probe into the drugs in clinical development, but she doubted that any of them were ready and capable of making a significant difference for her, else he would already have been on the phone with Dr. Davis, insisting on a way to get her on them. Right now, everyone with Alzheimer's faced the same outcome, whether they were eighty-two or fifty, resident of the Mount Auburn Manor or a full professor of psychology at Harvard University. The blazing fire consumed all. No one got out alive.
And while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity. Those with cancer could expect to be supported by their community. Alice expected to be outcast. Even the well-intentioned and educated tended to keep a fearful distance from the mentally ill. She didn't want to become someone people avoided and feared.”
This is an incredibly thought-provoking and absorbing book. It hits frighteningly close to home, I saw many similarities reflected in the book as I watch my grandmother steadily fade away from us over the last few years due to Alzheimer’s disease, and my mother who juggles many things to care for her.
Although I usually appreciate when the author is involved in an audio book, I think Genova was an inappropriate reader. I was put off by how young her voice sounded.... like that of a 30 year old woman, which I suspect is what Genova is. Her voice didn't have the depth and maturity that was needed for the 50 year old Alice.
For me it was a constant irritant, and I never fully engaged in the book because of this.
When I started this book I thought it was a true story -- it wasn't until midway the book that I realized, of course, it was not. It was that realistic -- as though coming from the 'patient' herself. It's a more interesting read than it would be if it was written about the more typical age group of the Alzheimer afflicted, but this was about the early onset group, age 50-65 -- in this case, age 50. It is especially both interesting and scary if you are reading it at age 63. However, the talking about it with family members early on is so important as you will learn as reading this wonderful little novel. I recommend it and do not think it will be depressing-- it's not as you would imagine.
The story was brilliant and the writing was excellent. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it myself as the narrator/author really did not do it justice. Unfortunately she had minimal depth, inflection, emotion. At times it was quite mundane to listen to. Excellent story though.
I bought this book based on a recommendation from a friend and I was not disappointed.
Good story with great documentation of the progression of this terrible disease, the people it affects and their families. Not depressing like you might think. The fact that it's a true story makes it even better.
When I wasn't listening to the book, I was thinking about what I had heard. No one in my family has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, but I found the book totally engrossing.
"Excellent insight, weak narration"
Oh how I wish writers would avoid narrating their own books. Lisa Genova is an excellent writer and offers real insight into Alzheimer's. I am witnessing my own mother's awful crawl towards absolute dementia, so at times it wasn't easy to listen to. Nevertheless I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
A beautiful story, touching without being over sentimental. An interesting and thought provoking account that brings to life what it must be like to be affected by Alzheimer's.
Was extremely moving, realistic and grabbed me with every word. Would definitely recommend.
Heartfelt and devastating at the same time
"an easy story to listen to"
a glimpse into a world of people and families trying to cope. Allows more understanding of how someone with dementia struggles.
"Very moving and impactful...."
As a woman of the same age, with many of the same fears about my memory/mental agility and competence, I found Alice's journey powerful and intimate. I was mesmerised by the story and totally immersed in her choices and feelings in relation to others and her family. Very touching story.
Compelling listening. Thoroughly enjoyed this book which was sensitively read making all the characters come alive. The interpretation of the debilitating affects of Alzheimer's was plausible and understandable.
This book is beautiful and inspiring. I loved listening to every word and finished it in but a few days. It is addictive.
Beautifully written book with so many interesting ideas and insightful views into Alzheimer's. Loved that the author read it but could have shown more expression and emotion in parts of the dialogue.
I did not want to stop listening. It was fantastically written. So true to life, very moving and real. Would strongly recommend
Would have benefited by an actress rather than the author reading it but such a good story that it didn't get in the way. The main character didn't suffer the angry accusational outburst that many Alzheimer's suffers show so that helped the listener feel more sympathy toward her.
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