We hear of the debilitating disease condition called “Alzheimer’s Disease” all too often these days. Most of us think of it as “Old Timer’s Disease.” We think it is only something that could happen to our parents or our grandparents, in their eighties and up. Although that is the age bracket of the vast majority, over half a million people in the United States are under the age of sixty-five. This is called “early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.”
In this thought-provoking novel, Genova creates the fictitious character of Alice, a Harvard Psychiatry professor, not unlike herself, who has a degree in neuroscience. Genova’s own perspective on life as a vibrant professor adds to the validity of this character. Alice is not quite fifty, in the height of her career. She lectures regularly around the world and is actively involved in her position at the university. She thinks her profession defines her. At first she can’t find her Blackberry. But her husband John can never find his keys either so she thinks little of it. Then she forgets the subject matter of her lecture five minutes before stepping to the podium in one of her classes. Next she cannot remember what she did yesterday; had for lunch today or even if she ate lunch. Other indicators make her face her fears and consider that it may be more serious than forgetfulness. She tries to blame it on menopause. She tries to blame it on stress. When the final diagnosis comes in, it is shocking to her and her family.
Genova takes us through the devastating disease through the voice of Alice. In a short three-year period, we witness the decline of her abilities. As Alice as the narrator, we can feel the frustration when the simplest things slip her grasp. We tremble with her when she gets lost running in her home town. Recognizing she can no longer fulfill her obligations at the university, Alice has to figure out who she is beyond being a professor. Her husband and her children each deal with Alice’s condition in different ways. John deals with it intellectually, getting her on a trial medications in the hopes of a cure. Daughter Anna wants to make all decisions for her long before she is incapable of making them herself. Tom believes if she just exercises her mind it will force her remember. Lydia just wants to let her be. She is still Alice, and her still her mother.
Don’t stop reading when you finish the novel itself. Genova’s discussion questions and Q & A section offer a lot of insight and information about early onset Alzheimer’s disease and is NOT fiction. Her research is astounding and her portrayal of Alice is right on, taken from real-life interviews of victims of this horrible disease. A portion of the sale of each novel will go to the Alzheimer’s Association so you can be a part of helping to find a cure. I highly recommend this book. It is a quick, easy read but this does not take away from the power of the message.