Nancy's Reviews > Inside the O'Briens

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
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Jan 09, 2015

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I know. Three stars. Before I get into the meat of the book, let me explain because Lisa Genova is one of my very favorite authors. I've always enjoyed her eloquent, intelligent writing. The woman is brilliant and gifted in both the medical field and creative writing. So my real issue with the book was the language. I was distracted by the sheer number of F bombs. It cheapened the eloquent writing style I've come to expect. I buy into the idea that the use of profanity demonstrates a lack of vocabulary. Lisa Genova does not lack vocabulary. But the book is not written from her own POV. The protagonists are blue collar Bostonians - Irish American. So I get it. I get that the characters were rough around the edges. Joe is a veteran cop. That's how he talks and that's how he thinks. I'm just saying that it was distracting, particularly from an author I've loved. That said, had I known ahead of time, I still would have read the book.

The story is a raw, real look at Huntington's Disease, a genetic anomaly in the DNA that is not a respecter of persons. The book begins with Joe, a Boston cop, in his mid thirties, he demonstrate an inkling of the disease. The reader moves from Joe as he progresses in the disease, becoming more clumsy, exhibiting chorea, getting stuck in thinking errors to Katie, his daughter as she becomes paralyzed with fear of the disease. Who has it? There are 4 grown children in various stages of life. Each child has a 50% shot at carrying the gene. If you carry the gene, you develop the disease eventually. Do you get the genetic testing and find out?

Everything about Genova's story is grittingly raw and real. I have a friend who was dating a man when the genetic sequence was identified and subsequently offered to relatives of identified sufferers of Huntington Disease. I didn't know at the time why he put their relationship into a screeching halt for weeks. I didn't know the drama that was playing out in their families until later. His mother was at the point that she could no longer care for her husband and put him into assisted care. His sister, a woman I met a year earlier, was a mother of five children ranging from 11 to 2 years old. She was showing signs of the disease. She chose to be tested. She was HD positive. At the time, the children could also be tested. Yet if they tested positive, would the diagnosis preclude them from quality health insurance? Pre-existing conditions were always the loophole insurance companies used at the time. The mother of the young children deteriorated quickly and her care was pushing the young father to the brink of bankruptcy.

So basically, I read the book but I caught a preview 20 years in advance. I can't tell you what happened to the real people I described in the previous paragraph because, minus the F bombs and the geography, this book tells their story. Those who carry the gene develop the disease and it is horrible. Those who don't carry the gene never get it and don't pass it on to the next generation but they care for their loved ones and suffer with them.

So it all sounds pretty hopeless and a real downer yet I must remind you that this is an author who somehow instills hope and love of life into her characters. The book is an excellent educational vehicle for Huntington's Disease but it also provides they greatest gift an author can give. Hope.

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Reading Progress

January 9, 2015 – Shelved
January 9, 2015 – Shelved as: on-my-kindle
Started Reading
January 13, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Carole Great review, Nancy. Lisa is one of my favorite authors as well. I'm disappointed to find out the "F" word is used in this book. I am looking forward to reading it, but it's too bad about the language, it distracts me a lot too.


Nancy Carole, I began reading one of your reviews and let out a giggle. Your reference to recommending a book club book to ladies in a group and still be able to look them in the eye hit my faux pas. I recommended Water for Elephants, completely compartmentalizing and glossing over the profanity. The ladies closed the book permanently when they got to the masturbating midget. I had completely forgotten about that part of him! Yeah. No eye contact for a few weeks. They also haven't asked for any more recommendations.


Carole That's too funny, about the midget, Nancy!! I had forgotten about that part too. I need to be careful what I recommend to my Mom:)


Carol Haile I just started the book and the f bomb was in the first chapter. Took me by surprise because it was so unlike her other novels. Anxious to finish and see what my reaction is.


Emily Agree with all of the above. A gratuitous use of profanity. Cheapened the read for me. I would not recommend this book. Very disappointing because I loved Still Alice. This novel also,lacks depth of characterization.


Bailey Just finished this and appreciated your mention of the frequent f bombs. I was wondering if I was the only one who noticed how much more widespread the profanity was compared to her other books. I'm with you... I understand that this use of language was apart of her characters' culture, but I though that rather than using other ways to characterize them as a tough, stubborn, working class Bostonian family, she just made them curse a lot. If that makes sense. :) Thanks for your review!


Laura Rowley I have to say I did not even notice this nor was I distracted by it. It's all part of the character's background and the setting of the book.


Gloria It was the use of the word "wicked" I found annoying......to say nothing of the over all annoyingness of the novel which is trying too hard to present facts about Huntington's and to write a novel It was a poor attempt at trying to do both at the same time.


message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Everingham Gloria, the word wicked is extremely common slang in Boston. So it definitely was in keeping with the storyline and the characters. In Boston things can be wicked smart, wicked awesome, wicked cold or wicked anything else...I find it pretty funny.


Gloria Gloria wrote: "It was the use of the word "wicked" I found annoying......to say nothing of the over all annoyingness of the novel which is trying too hard to present facts about Huntington's and to write a novel..."

Point taken, Kim. I still find it wicked annoying.


message 11: by Erica (new) - added it

Erica T I abandoned this one just 5 minutes into the audio version because of all the profanity I had already encountered in that short amount of time. I haven't dared to try any of her other books. Sounds like this one was not the norm though?


Colette Duffy OMG... people. Step out of your egg crates! It doesn't cheapen the writing, it provides authenticity! Sad that anyone would have to abandon this great book because they can't handle reading the F-Bomb.


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