My mom’s bookclub read Still Alice earlier in the year and she gave it a strong recommendation. And now I’m writing to give it my own hearty endorsement.
The story follows Alice Howland, a well-respected Harvard professor in her early fifties. Her children are all out of the house and, with her husband also a successful Harvard professor, she is really set to continue her rise as a brilliant researcher, teacher, and speaker.
Except, she starts to notice that she’s becoming a bit forgetful. At first it’s just a word here or there that she cannot find, and then it’s information that her husband or co-workers have just given her, but when she finds herself completely lost a mile from her home during a routine afternoon run, she starts to become a little nervous.
For a while, she convinces herself it’s just menopausal symptoms, but when she goes in for a check-up and mentions losing all context during her run, the doctor suggests some follow-up appointments and before long, she’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
This is such devastating news that at first she can’t stand to tell anyone, not even her husband. How can she accept that everything she cares about in her life – her work, her family, even herself – will, within a few years, be completely gone.
Whew, this is not an easy book – it is just so heartbreaking to watch her slide more and more into the disease. And of course, as the reader, you know from the beginning that it’s Alzheimer’s, and it is just unstoppable.
It’s wrenching, too, to watch her family deal with it. Her husband, at
first, is just convinced it must be a wrong diagnosis and once he does
recognize that this is a fact of life he’ll need to deal with, he throws
himself into finding anything that might delay or stop the progression of the disease. Her children all deal with it in their own ways – since it is a genetic disease (when it’s early-onset), her children can be tested for it. Two choose to be, but one feels that she’d rather not know if her mother’s future is her own future.
Other people have commented on how paranoid you feel when you read this book, and I felt a little of that too. It’s hard not to lose your keys and think, “Am I sinking into a mental illness?” and when Alice reads a checklist, early on, for a caregiver to fill out about the patient’s abilities (bodily functions, word use, basic skills, etc), it seems impossible to her that she, someone who is so capable, will someday be reduced to those levels.
I loved the audio version of this (read by the author, which I always enjoy if the author is a halfway decent reader); listening to it, rather than reading it on a page made me feel even more connected to Alice, like I was really in her head, experiencing the devastating loss of her abilities. It just felt so real.
I am really glad to know more about Alzheimer’s – it’s been a disease I haven’t had much experience with at all – and I thought this book handled it extremely well. I read some reviews that talked about the clunky writing, but if it was, I never noticed it. This is a fantastic read.
Audiobook checked out from the library