I was listening to the radio earlier this week and heard them discussing the movie version of Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore. It sounded interesting, so I started reading it on Thursday, and finished it while at the gym today. The writing was fantastic, the story was interesting and moving, and the small world Ms. Genova created took me in from the first page.
Still Alice tells the story of a cognitive psychology Harvard professor who, at age 51, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. She has a professor husband and three grown children, and is forced to figure out how she is going to handle this diagnosis. The book unfolds month by month, from before the diagnosis, through telling the family and as the disease progresses. What makes the story different are two things: first, that it addresses early-onset Alzheimer’s (as opposed to Alzheimer’s affecting people in their 80s), and second, that it is told from the perspective of the person with the diagnosis, not the caregiver.
The book is devastating, but not so sorrowful that I found myself depressed by reading it. I really cared about Alice and her family. In fact, I cared so much for her family that I would love to have seen the story told from multiple perspectives (Alice’s husband and her three children, for example), although at that point the book would be 1,000 pages long. But those would be 1,000 pages I’d read. The characters are interesting and flawed – not everyone acts perfectly, and not everyone is wholly sympathetic. By have the main character Alice have multiple children and a spouse, the author can show us how different people might process the diagnosis.
Beyond that, though, and most importantly, Ms. Genova slowly, throughout the book, really shows us what Alice’s experience is as the dementia gets worse and worse. From early on, when she gets lost in a place she’s been daily for dozens of years, to later on, when she can no longer follow the plot of the book she’s reading, the reader gets as much of a sense as possible of what the person with Alzheimer’s experiences.