Ms.pegasus's Reviews > Left Neglected

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
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Nov 06, 11

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, neuroscience
Read in October, 2011, read count: 1

Left Neglect is a neurological condition resulting from right-hemisphere brain damage. Working from an assumption that the brain matches sensory input to a number of expected templates, we gain some understanding of how the patient is not aware of the deficit until it is brought to her attention. Thus, Sarah thinks she is drawing a complete face, or seeing the food on both sides of her plate. (Her drawing only has one eye, and the food on the left side of her plate is uneaten). The most interesting parts of this book deal with the nature of the malady, and its treatment. Sarah is given exercises that force her to pay attention to her left side. She pulls cotton balls off the left side of her body, incorporates a mantra of turning her head to locate a red left margin marker into her reading exercises, practices rolling her wheelchair in a straight line, and drawing faces that have two eyes instead of one. At one point an astute parallel is drawn between Sarah's difficulty focusing sustained attention to her left side, and her son's attentional difficulties due to ADHD.

As a work of fiction, the book is less successful. Sarah is more of a template than a convincing character. Parents – particularly women – will empathize with the stress of running on a clock not of their own choosing. Whether they work in hourly rather than career-track jobs, or are stay-at-home moms, everyone will empathize with Sarah: “Fourteen miles in seventy-eight minutes. The winner of the Boston Marathon could've beaten me home on foot.” On sleep, a pediatrician once told me: “If you wanted sleep, you shouldn't have had kids.” We are not surprised at Sarah's exhaustion, even without her stressful job. The description of Charlie's soccer game has familiar resonance: a swarm of kids, half with shoe laces untied, pursuing each other as much as the ball. The problem is that later in the book we find less of ourselves mirrored in Sarah's life. I felt impatience at some of her unrealistic expectations, particularly that she could target a date for returning to her fast-track lifestyle. Perhaps it is a reflection of my own cynicism, but I found Sarah's idyllic framing of her workplace to be a fantasy. (Too many books and anecdotes about what doesn't work in today's high-powered office suites). Sorry that this spilled over into my feelings about the book.

More problematic is the lack of seamlessness between the writing and the research. Charlie's ADD is described almost clinically. We never see Charlie's ADD through his or his parent's eyes, as an experiential phenomena, until Sarah and Charlie spend time “teaching” each other to read. The specialness that ADD brings to Charlie's personality is only briefly alluded to when his teacher remarks: "And normal's overrated if you ask me."

Finally, the ending, perhaps because the characters never seemed real to me, felt constructed rather than organic. A major change in Sarah's husband and their relationship feels glossed over in favor or reaching that ending.

What the reader can and should come away from this book is an appreciation of how our "abnormalities" shape us into who we are -- unique and refreshingly non-normal.
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