deLille's Reviews > Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
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Jan 08, 10

bookshelves: medical
Recommended to deLille by: Theone Rutledge
Recommended for: People living with Alzheimer's
Read in October, 2009, read count: 1

The biggest problem with self-published work is the lack of an editor who tells you how to go from good to great. “Still Alice” has a wonderful premise: let’s tell the story of Alzheimer’s from the patient’s point of view, but somehow the book sounds like a professor telling you the Alzheimer’s story from a patient’s point of view, rather than having the patient tell her own story. (Using first person rather than third would have been more effective.) I felt that I was reading nothing more than an extended patient case study in a research journal.

Additionally, the character of Alice blurred with the author’s identity at times… I found myself asking, “Who’s really telling the story here, Alice or Lisa Genova?” Or, one minute you felt like you were inside Alice’s head, you really knew what she was thinking, but then the frame of reference would shift to being outside of her observing from someone else’s perspective. I never totally felt connected with Alice as a real person.

I thought that the supporting cast around Alice could have been better developed, but her children were fairly one dimensional people and her conversations with them were about one subject only given that the children had only one thing that defined each of them (i.e., having a baby, auditioning for a play). The one relationship that rang partly true was the one she had with her husband, who waffled between wanting to do his best to support his wife but also feeling that he needed to look after his own interests given that Alice might not be around in his future. His practicality tended to overrule his emotions, which is typical in many men.

Having lived with Alzheimer’s in my family, I felt that the book glossed over some really hard-hitting aspects of Alzheimer’s. While it touched on the concept of suicide, the book sidestepped the issue by making Alice unable to find her pills when she (momentarily) realized that the time had come. Therefore, the book was able to end with Alice presumably slipping away into oblivion in the arms of a warm, loving, happy family. Ha. My own personal experiences with Alzheimer’s would suggest that this is not an accurate portrayal of what it feels like to actually DIE of Alzheimer’s. I felt bad that Alice had been unable to find her pills and therefore would have to go through something that she -- when she was still lucid enough to write her thoughts down -- had adamantly expressed that she did not want to have to deal with.
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Comments (showing 1-11)

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Kelly you may like my new book The Bird House with a similar premise -- but I am an author, not a neuroscientist!! Library Journal called it a "a great title for book clubs and fans of 'Still Alice.' "

Angela Wade I totally agree with your review. The ending almost seemed too happy, when there should have been more grit.

Claudette I agree with your review. I had heard much about this book and wanted to like it more than I did. The characters apart from Alice just weren't very well developed so it was difficult to care when we were told how they felt, and the ending seemed far too "happy" given how the children had been portrayed in the rest of the book. I did care about Alice however, and that is what gave this book 3 stars for me.

Jason Just a note related to the suicide part of the book -- my understanding from reading it was that Alice in no way misplaced the pills that were designed to end her life. The subtext is that her husband discovered the Butterfly document on her hard drive and discarded the pills Alice was going to use to kill herself.

There are a couple places where this becomes apparent. First, when arguing with his children about moving to New York, he notes that "She didn't want to be here like this." In the next chapter, he directly asks her questions 1, 4, and 3 from her Butterfly document -- "Alice, do you know what month it is?", "Do you know when Anna's birthday is?", "Alice, where's your office?" -- and receives woefully incomplete answers. Finally, he asks, "Alice, do you still want to be here?" to which she responds, "Yes. I like sitting here with you. And I'm not done yet." This is answer enough for John that he either made the right decision in taking the pills away, or should take the pills from their hiding place before she bumbles into them, as she would have in the next chapter.

Hoda I Think that the author is trying to tell us that if you have Alzheimer's and don't remember your own family members, it is still worth it to live. Suicide is not teh answer. If a person isn't productive, it doesn't mean they should kill themselves. The last 'scene' in the book shows how she is loved and feels loved by her daughters and nurse, and how she is able to give love back to her grandchild. It is a good existence, even if she's not a professor anymore.

Hoda Also, about the characters. She lived with her husband, so that's why the relationship was more detailed. But her children didn't live with her, and somewhere the author points to the idea in Alice's head about how she was very busy with her work and didn't spend much time with her children.

Angela Jason: that's an interesting observation. I missed that subtext completely: I think I may have been too busy trying to remember that blasted name and address that her neurologist kept asking her to remember and then wondering why I also couldn't I need to reread the book I just read in one sitting to see what else I missed.....

deLille I am not advocating suicide here. I'm just saying that I'm not buying into the whole notion that dying of Alzheimer’s is a peaceful happy drift into oblivion. Maybe it's that way for some people, but I have seen first hand that it's not that way for all.

Lisa See, I was under the impression that she had already followed the Butterfly instructions earlier in the novel, at the point when she didn't wake up for two days and Lydia was all worried about her. That would explain why there are no pills in the drawer when she tries again at the end of the book. That might also have been the point where John discovered her suicidal intention. Not every attempt at suicide by overdose is successful, and that's what I figured happened then.

Susan You said it well...I didn't even make it through the first chapter before I thought---this reads like a dry case history with some bad dialogue thrown in. Then I looked at the author's info and realized why. My dad has Alzheimer's and it is terrible to watch his growing sadness and confusion. But if the author had a partner who could actually write a novel, she could have come up with a truly amazing book. I have to slog along a little farther in the book for my book club...but...I can't recommend this book to anyone.

Emily I feel the same way as Lisa. I figured that she had already taken the pills when she wouldn't wake up and that was why she couldn't find them later.

Either way, I enjoyed your review!

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