Recap: Alice Howland is Harvard psychology professor, an author, a wife, and a mother of three. She’s brilliant, organized, and well put-together. But just a few months before her 50th birthday, she starts to notice some memory problems, forgetting a word here or there or certain sections of her syllabi. She doesn’t think anything of it until one day when she goes for a jog and can’t figure out how to get home from Harvard Square. Instantly, she knows something is wrong. After several doctor appointments and cognitive testing, Alice is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The diagnosis hits Alice and her family like a death sentence. Immediately, two of Alice’s three grown children get tested for the gene associated with the disease. When Alice’s daughter learns she has the gene, she and her husband have their doctors help medically ensure it won’t be passed on to their children. Alice’s son, Tom, doesn’t quite know how to deal with the news. Suddenly Lydia, Alice’s youngest with whom she doesn’t easily get along, is spending much more time with her mother.
As the months continue, Alice’s Alzheimer’s worsens. She’s forced to retire. She forgets names, referring to her daughters as “the mother” or “the actress.” She loses things. She becomes completely dependent on her Blackberry and her family members. She can’t even go running by herself. What’s worse is she knows what’s coming, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.
Analysis: Even though Still Alice is written in third-person, author Lisa Genova does a good job of letting Alice tell her story. Author Lisa Genova also brilliantly parallels her writing with Alice’s Alzheimer’s. As Alice’s Alzheimer’s worsens toward the end of the novel, the writing starts to jump between Alice’s dreams, hallucinations, and reality. The writing wanders as Alice’s mind does. As she becomes confused, so do we.
Perhaps the best and — at the same time — most painful part of the story is the newly budding relationship between Alice and her youngest daughter, Lydia. Lydia was the one who Alice never understood, but with the diagnosis comes a willingness from Lydia to get to know her mother better. The new bond they form is a stark contrast against the failing relationships between Alice and her husband and Alice and her other two children. Her husband and other kids become frustrated with Alice, and try to “test” her memory.
Still Alice is not only a story about an Alzheimer’s victim. It’s also the story of a family affected by the disease and how they all choose to deal with it differently.
MVP: Lydia. Lydia is the only one of Alice’s children who treats Alice as though she’s still Alice. She realizes that despite the memory-loss and confusion, Alice is still Alice and should be treated as such.