Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease.
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Genova’s sensitive exploration of this insidious disorder provides the basis for the story Still Alice and details its heartbreaking outcome. We travel with Alice and her family through each phase of the disease, its effect on the brain, and how it changes her life and that of her family. The author holds a degree in neuroscience from Harvard herself and is able to tell the story through Alice’s point of view which provides a fascinating perspective.
As the disease progresses and it becomes apparent that her career is over, Alice’s family undergoes profound changes also. Two of her three children decide to undergo testing to ascertain whether or not they carry the gene that will result in their developing the disease. Alice’s relationship with her third child, daughter Lydia, changes also, but not necessarily in a bad way. A new acceptance seemed to develop between the two that was absent before because Lydia didn’t want to go to college and chose a career in acting instead. Mid-way through the book you have:
“She could see Lydia’s history as well, but somehow this woman sitting across from her wasn’t inextricably connected to her memories of her youngest child. This made her uneasy and painfully aware that she was declining, her past becoming unhinged from her present. And how strange that she had no problem identifying the man next to Anna as Anna’s husband, Charlie, who had entered their lives only a couple of years ago. She pictured her Alzheimer’s as a demon in her head, tearing a reckless and illogical path of destruction, ripping apart the wiring from ‘Lydia now’ to ‘Lydia then,’ leaving all the Charlie connections unscathed.” (Page 200)
I loved the way this family came together after overcoming their initial anxiety. Even her husband John, who grieved for the loss of the woman he knew, finally was able to come to terms with their new life. I’m not sure this is the way every family would be able to handle this and the author concluded the story before Alice became totally incontinent, unable to communicate, completely bedridden or in the last throes of the disease. At the end of the book, she realizes all she’s lost:
“I used to be someone who knew a lot. No one asks for my opinion or advice anymore. I miss that. I used to be curious and independent and confident. I miss being sure of things. There’s no peace in being unsure of everything all the time. I miss doing everything easily. I miss being part of what’s happening. I miss feeling wanted. I miss my life and my family. I loved my life and my family.” (Page 285)
So very sad. Highly recommended.
Alice Howland is 50-years-old and has achieved great personal and professional success. She is a tenured professor at Harvard in the field of cognitive psychology and a world-renowned expert in linguistics. Her husband John is also a respected Harvard professor and researcher in
But lately, Alice seems to be forgetting things more often—losing her train of thought in the middle of a lecture she's given hundreds of times, leaving her BlackBerry in a restaurant, mixing up times for appointments. But one day while out running, Alice finds herself completely disoriented and lost—in the town where she's lived for more than 25 years and on a route she's run countless times. Flushed and panicked, Alice wanders around her home town until her world suddenly rights itself and she knows where she is. But the experience shakes her to the core, and more lapses cause her to visit her long-time family doctor. Is it menopause? Stress? Depression?
After several tests, her physician sends her to a neurologist, who conducts more extensive tests and gives Alice shocking news: she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Initially reluctant to share the diagnosis with her husband, Alice finally shares her secret with him. Like Alice, he is unwilling to believe it and pushes for more tests. But the worst proves to be true, and they face a future that seems bleak and hopeless—a future where Alice will slowly disappear until the faces of those she loves are the faces of strangers and her ability to communicate (the linchpin of her professional life) disappears as her brain is ravaged by the disease.
This book is heart-breaking. I struggled to read the last 65 pages or so because I was crying so hard I could barely see the words. I've always known Alzheimer's is a cruel disease, but reading Alice's story—and "experiencing" Alzheimer's from the patient's point of view—brings to life the horror and the tragedy of the disease in a way that makes it all too real. Lisa Genova has done something special with this book; she has given a voice to people who are slowly and irrevocably losing their voice. She's managed to bring her readers inside the mind of an Alzheimer's patient and take them on the journey from momentary lapses in memory to a world where the man you've been married to for years becomes "the man who owns the house" and your daughters become "the mother" and "the actress."
In many ways, the book reminded me of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. In that book, a young man named Charlie with an IQ of 68 undergoes a special experimental procedure to increase intelligence, which seems to have worked successfully on a mouse named Algernon. The experiment works, and Charlie's IQ increases dramatically. However, the improvement is only temporary and he reverts back to his initial mental capacity. In the story, which is written as letters and notes in Charlie's journal, you can track Charlie's progress by the way he writes. Initially his writing is very simple and full of spelling errors. Then as his intelligence increases, the writing gets more sophisticated and the spelling errors disappear. Then, as he declines, the writing reverts back to how it was in the beginning. That book also made me cry; you mourn the loss of Charlie as you see him beginning to crumble mentally after achieving a "normal" life.
In Still Alice, you experience the progression of Alzheimer's as Alice does—repetitive conversations, leaving a room after talking to a long-time acquaintance and coming back moments later and introducing yourself to them as if you've never met before, losing vocabulary. As Alice deteriorates, you experience her losses and gaps in memory as if it is happening to you, and this makes for heart-breaking reading. At the end of the book, when she wonders why she can't go to her home and wonders why she is with the "man who owns the house," my heart was full of sadness. One device Lisa Genova uses to chart the disease's progression is a series of questions that Alice devises to "test" herself before her dementia gets too bad. The idea is that if she can no longer answer the questions, she should open a specific file on her computer and follow the directions there for committing suicide. As the book progresses, the answers get shorter and more inaccurate—charting her deterioration. It was a brilliant device, and I was sobbing when Alice finds her letter to herself and struggles to carry out its instructions.
As tragic as this story is and as horrible as the disease is, Genova is also able to present some beautiful moments as well. As the disease progresses, Alice lets go of many of the things that kept her separated from her family—healing her relationship with her estranged daughter and allowing her to realize what is truly important to her. Although I wouldn't wish Alzheimer's disease on anyone, I thought Genova offered some slight reassurances that the disease itself may possibly protect the people suffering from it at the end—giving them a simplified and almost childlike existence. The ending scene between Alice and Lydia offered a kind of bittersweet ending—reminding the reader that love can still be alive despite the ravages of the disease.
My version of the book included an interview with Lisa Genova about her research and motivations for the book. The book itself was given the "stamp of approval" by the National Alzheimer's Association, and Ms. Genova writes for the organization in a professional capacity. In addition, she holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University. I think this is worth mentioning because this isn't a writer who imagines what Alzheimer's might be like. She studied and researched it and worked hard to accurately capture the diagnosis process, symptoms, treatment options and progression accurately. I, for one, applaud her hard work and decision to write this book.
I think this book is a must read for anyone affected by Alzheimer's disease. I pray that this disease never touches me or anyone I know. I cannot imagine anyone being unaffected by this book. It will rip your heart out, and I suggest you do not read it without having many tissues nearby. I haven't been this emotionally affected by a book in a long time, and, for this reason, I must give it 5 stars.
In the next two years, Alice's condition rapidly deteriorates. The sad part is, because of her background, Alice knows what's going on. She participates in a trial for a new medication, and makes some decisions on her own about her career. Her illness has a genetic component, and it's interesting to read why her children do (or don't) decide to get tested. Her husband reacts in ways that are understandable in some aspects and puzzling in others. Reading this book is both sobering and heartbreaking.
Author Lisa Genova has a degree in neuroscience from Harvard herself, bringing insight to the story from Alice’s point of view. Genova initially self-published the book as she was told its appeal would be limited; ultimately the book reached the top ten in sales. The book has been endorsed by the National Alzheimer's Association, and is accurate in portraying the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and eventual outcome (currently) of early onset Alzheimer's. Makes me want to donate to help find a cure for this disease.
We had an excellent discussion of this book online, and I think it would be good for book clubs who can stomach the topic. Highly recommended.
© Amanda Pape - 2013
[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]
I feel somehow richer for reading this story. As if I have a new understanding, greater compassion for those touched by this diagnosis. We often joke about forgetting and losing one's mind, but the reality is not a laughing matter.
Dr. Alice Howland is a 50-year-old psychology professor at Harvard with a specialty in linguistics. Her decline started with forgetting words, getting lost while jogging on a regular route, forgetting appointments, and even a trip. After her diagnosis, her relationship with
‘Still Alice’ delivers quite a punch. The idea of having early on-set Alzheimer is incredibly scary. Being an EON patient, the progression of the disease is faster than a typical elderly. Furthermore, because the main character is highly intelligent and a high-functioning individual, it’s possible her Alzheimer’s started sooner but she’s been able to compensate, making the progression appear to be even more extraordinary. The depictions of her decline, the gaps, the repeats, the mistakes, the moments of lucidity, are absolutely heart-breaking. The brilliance of Genova’s writing is its sparseness. She doesn’t outright point out Alice’s mistakes. She lets the readers come to the realization that an “episode” had occurred. In the last months, when her family members are described instead of using their names, the words read like a gut-wrenching blow when I realized she longer knows who they are. Damn…
On the loss of language:
“But to tell the truth, she was very far from okay. She could still read and comprehend small amounts of text, but the computer keyboard had become an undecipherable jumble of letters. In truth, she’d lost the ability to compose words out of the alphabet letters on the keys. Her ability to use language, that thing that most separates humans from animals, was leaving her, and she was feeling less and less human as it departed. She’d said a tearful good-bye to okay some time ago.”
Alice is a Harvard professor whose specialty is cognitive psychology, specifically in the way that we make langauge. She is well respected in her field and frequently off giving speeches at conferences. Her husband is also a Harvard professor and their children are grown and pursuing their own lives. So when Alice starts to forget small things, she chalks it up to stress, tiredness, or perhaps even menopause, knowing that her symptoms are indeed normal for any of these situations. But when she goes out for a run and gets lost in harvard Square, a place she has been in countless times on countless days, she knows that she should see a doctor, still hoping that she'll be told that everything is normal and knowing that it isn't.
As Alice starts down the path of a probably diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, followed by genetic confirmation, Genova continues to have Alice herself narrate the story so the reader lives the denial, poignancy, and helplessness of the patient rather than the caregiver. And this decision adds to the power of the novel. Alice is a very intelligent woman. She knows exactly what she's losing, and it's more than her memories. It's the sense of herself and those things that make her uniquely Alice. In the early stages of the disease, she tells of her relationship with her grown children, and especially her youngest daughter, the family rebel. There is no suggestion that Alice has been the perfect mother, she details her failings honestly and believably, but it is the imperfect mother that they had whom each of her children wants to hold onto.
This is not a handbook on how to handle a loved one's descent into the fog of Alzheimer's. It is a powerful and heartbreaking look at the breakdown of the person, the family, and the relationships with outsiders that Alzheimer's strips from its victims. Alice's intention to leave this world before she can't answer her touchstone questions, the questions which define her sense of self is shattering, understandable, and begs the question of who a person is if those things that defined them, internally and externally are all gone.
Genova's novel is really exquisitely done. The characters are human, with the failings and frustrations of real people. And Alice is, of course, the central character, showing the reader, through the eyes of the afflicted, the great extent of this horrible disease. Each of the women in my book group who had had a family member affected by this disease, early onset or not was grateful for the insight into the mind of the sufferer, even when that insight was necessarily painful. And all of us admitted to sobbing in the end. This disease ravages so many, those with the diease and those caring for someone with the disease. It truly is a thief and Genova has shone a light on the great need for better understanding, more research, and ultimately a cure. Highly recommended.
Up close and personal in the face of Alzheimer's Disease Lisa Genova's writing doesn't shy away from her protagonist's raw feelings. Alice deals with fear, frustration, embarrassment, and anger while narrating the story in such a way that the reader is painfully aware of her failing memory. Each chapter is marked as a month and as the pages turn the young professor loses more and more of her self, struggling with the fact that she is - as the title suggests - Still Alice.
Genova's book is by no means a "feel-good story" or a "comfort read". I have a hard time recommending books to others when I know how challenging the subject matter can be, but Still Alice is what I would call an important book. It might not be a book that people will want to read, but is a book that people should read. The novel paints a portrait of the heartbreaking reality of life with Early Onset Alzheimer's and this is a book of understanding and empathy for anyone dealing with the disease directly or anyone with a loved one with dementia.
The scientific information in this text is, in some places, a bit dense, but it does not impair the reading in any way. Details, such as the availability of support groups for caregivers but not for patients further point out the inconsistencies and unreasonable nature of our healthcare system. While this book is sad and a box of Kleenex is a necessity, you can't help but wish you had the privilege of calling Alice your friend. This is a book that stays with you long after you close the covers.
By its very nature, this book has
It does finish very strong, though, which impressed me. This is surely the kind of story it's hard to put a good ending on, because it's never going to be able to have a happy one. But Genova does make it work, makes it moving, and makes it, somehow, affirming even as it's depressing.
Rating: I'm giving this a 3.5/5. For most of it, I was figuring it'd get a 3/5, but it definitely deserves the extra half star for sticking a difficult landing at the end.
Still Alice is a plot driven book. It begins with small hiccups affecting Alice’s memory or her sense of place then chugs right along into the more severe aspects of the disease—disorientation, total short-term memory loss, etc. Actually, I wouldn’t even
The setting plays an important role, because it represents the good life. The Harvard campus and the charm of old New England ooze out of many pages of this book. Unfortunately, the setting never really participates in the story. I would have liked to see the setting possibly play tricks on her or lead her purposefully down the wrong path.
Lastly, the science is a huge part of the structure of the book. As Alice feels something is wrong she goes from her regular doctor to a neurologist where she is tested constantly on her memory and spatial awareness skills. She has detailed discussions about drugs, treatment options, and clinical trials. Much like the other characters, however, the science comes off flat and inconsequential to the heart of the story. The characters all feel added into Alice’s life to give it the illusion of fullness, yet the reader never truly gets close to any of these characters, which makes them feel cliché at best and expendable at worst.
The idea of a woman in her early fifties with early-onset Alzheimer’s is such a compelling notion that it carries the reader through most of the book. After getting about halfway, though, the reader can only hope for the next doctor visit, rather than the story, to reveal more about Alice’s uncertain mental future.
The novel's main character is Alice Howland, a world renowned Harvard professor of cognitive psychology and an expert
On the eve of her 50th birthday shd begins to notice signs of memory disorder in herself. At first she thinks this is part of the normal aging process and the onset of menopause. However, when she forgets how to get home from Harvard Square in the middle of a run, she realizes that something else is wrong & goes to see a neurologist. There to her horror, she learns that she has early onset Alzheimer's.
Told in Alice's voice the story proceeds from the initial trauma of telling her family about the disease; to trying to cope with keeping up with her teaching, research & speaking obligations; to finally admitting that she has to retire, essentially, from public life.
Throughout the book, even as her mind slips irretrievably away, Alice maintains a dignity and sense of herself. The same, however, can not be said of her husband, who seems alternatively to be in denial of her condition or callously resentful of it.
Her children, however, especially her daughters (and isn't this the usual case?) are trumps - taking care of her and maintaining her in her home while her husband essentially flees for a new & more important job in New York City. Her youngest daughter, the one she has found it hardest to relate to probably because she is more intuitive than analytical, has the clearest insights into her mother's condition and how to handle it. The interaction between the two of them as Alice's mind continues to deteriorate is beautiful and touching.
With half a million Americans affected by early onset Alzheimer's and many more by the disease in later life, this book is a must read for anyone ho wants to understand the disease and the people it affects.
“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is both a heartbreaking and uplifting novel about a woman who is diagnosed with an early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. At the age of fifty, Alice Howland is enjoying a busy but fulfilling life: she is an excellent Harvard professor and a
Things that make “Still Alice” an exceptional novel about Alzheimer’s disease:
1) Very informative and engaging.
I knew some major facts about Alzheimer’s prior reading this book, but now I can begin to grasp what it really feels like to live with this disease. “Still Alice" is packed with an insider’s information such as a detail description of diagnostic testing and available treatments; however, all of this is explained in the most engaging and entertaining way possible.
2) Unique perspective.
The story is told from Alice’s, a woman’s with Alzheimer’s, perspective and it is so masterfully done that at times I was as confused, frustrated, embarrassed or terrified as Alice must have felt. I not only understood what she was going through but I went through it with her.
Since I am a member of scientific community myself, I really enjoyed reading about the lives of science professors/researchers and felt an immediate connection with the characters. However, I am sure that anyone would relate to this book despite their background or experience because at its very core “Still Alice” probes our shared humanity.
4) Well written.
Although the topic itself is very touching, the author skillfully avoided slipping into sentimentality. Genova’s writing is laconic yet very accessible, though-provoking and gripping.
“Still Alice” is an informative, fast-paced and emotionally powerful novel which will change the way you think about Alzheimer’s disease.
However there is laughter in "Still Alice" as well.
Alice does laugh at herself and the situations her crazy memory puts in her in, even if those close to her don't see the humor.
I have so many favorite parts of this book, both funny and heartbreaking; the funniest - when she's trying to put on her sports bra, the saddest - towards the end, when in a rare clarity filled momment, she says, "I miss myself"
I think this book makes you see your life a little clearer and reduces you to the basics of what really matters.
Lisa Genova is an astounding author, to capture such thoughts and feelings on paper, and be able to transfer them so the reader "bleeds" as well. She is working on another book, that from the description sounds just as fascinating as this one was.
This is an eloquent and important book that gives
While this is a very sad story, it has its light moments when Alice is able to laugh at the crazy things she does to get through everyday life. The compassion with which she is treated by some of her friends and family is heartening and her bravery in the face of what she knows her mind will become is inspiring. This is a book that everyone should read.
I listened to this book on audio. The author reads it herself and she does a commendable job. Alice's humor, confusion, anger, and hope all come across in the author's voice.
Just turning 50 Alice, a Doctorate Professor of Psycology at Harvard starts noticing that she is forgetting words, appointments, and even getting lost during a run. She consults a neurologist and they go
This book is written from Alice's perspective. The alertness and detailed life of Alice at first, to the last chapter when she is mostly unaware. Brilliant in that it not only is taken from Alice's perspective, but also that it is written so well that you see the emotional changes that her husband and children go through as they become to accept her diagnosis. Their struggle to understand, to live their own lives, yet to go on with their own.
Fantastic details about alzheimers, studies on it, medications and how they work, and the brain activity. Only a Doctor in Neuroscience like Lisa Genova could write with such precision and details, yet keeping it readable for the general public.
When I finished the book I just set it down with tears in my eyes and said Wow.. amazing book.
If you know anyone with Alzheimers I strongly recommend this book. One of the only books that The National Alzheimer's Association has endorsed. I recommend it even if you just want to have a new understanding and perspective on this disease, good chance you sometime will run into someone with it. A real chance to grasp the disease, and the person who still has to live with it. May give you a whole new respect for those suffering with this disease.
My only real complaint with this book is that the
There is one incredibly powerful scene where Alice is trying to get dressed to go running (she is told exercise helps stave off symptoms, but since she gets lost, her husband is forced to accompany her on runs), and she gets stuck in the broom closet because she cannot find the bathroom. How powerless this disease makes a person ~ very sad.
My grandmother died from Alzheimer's related complications after the prolonged illness and the portrayal of the progression of disease is very accurate ~ and the kinds of confusion that set in. Overall, I recommend this book, but it would have been more powerful with more flushed out, dimensional humans ~ ones I cared about more. As it was, it turned out more of like reading a text book.
I would "highly" recommend this book for anyone either suffering from Alzheimer's; or caregivers of same. Alzheimer's disease - as to both the sufferer and the family - is handled with grace, compassion and reality in this novel.
Alice is a professor of language and linguistics at
One hopes there will be a cure for this devastating disease soon.
It is the story of Alice Howland, a tenured Harvard professor with a doctorate in Psychology. Her specialty is language formation and organization—a brilliant woman, a great teacher, a renowned researcher, a sought-after lecturer—who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Early, as in her 50′s, still at the pinnacle of her chosen and beloved career, still young enough to be anticipating further career advancement as well as retirement and grandchildren.
Alice relates her story in her own voice, and eventually in her own thoughts, as her faculty for speech diminishes much too quickly, albeit predictably, for this articulate and erudite woman—an especially cruel irony. Her mind knew, but she lost the ability to convey that inner part of herself. The reader travels each step of Alice’s journey as she descends into the formless unknown, and unknowable, chasm of Alzheimer’s dementia. Early on, her doctor insists that Alice always bring someone else along to appointments, since given the nature of her condition, she will not always be a good judge of what has been going on in her own life, or in the progression of her brain disorder.
For Alice, always the consummate organizer and scheduler, disorder is a good description of what became of her exterior life. What once made sense no longer did, the words she used with such precision were gone, and time and place lost context. After a while she could no longer participate in making decisions for herself and she slowly lost her independence. While frightened and frustrated and at times incredibly angry, her spirit remained intact. She continued to make her feelings and thoughts known as she was able. To the end, she fought for her dignity and that of other sufferers of dementia.
For Alice’s family, there was fear of the unknown. Would her husband be able to, or indeed want to, take care of her as she slowly deteriorated? Himself a well-known research biologist, he had once shared so much in common with Alice. His educated grasp of the processes of disease gave him the tools to fight for her treatment, as well as insight into the probable futility of any cure. His frailty as a human made it hard for him to accept what was happening to Alice and mesh that with the future of his life as it had always been planned. Her children had to deal with the very real threat that her Alzheimer’s was hereditary. One son and one daughter chose to find out their genetic predisposition through testing; the youngest daughter chose not to have the test. Their choices would have lifelong ramifications. So, this is also the story of Alice’s family and the effect of a most puzzling and cruel and unpredictable disease on them. It is a story of triumph in the face of a disease has the ability to cause a family to come apart or pull together in a crisis.
The reader is not left without hope. As the book ends, we know that the core, the very innermost part of Alice, remains. Her career, her position in her family, her independence all stripped away, she retains the essence of the person who was Alice before Alzheimer’s dementia wreaked havoc with all she was and all she knew. She loved and was loved.
Although this is a novel, there is much factual information in Still Alice. Genova’s research was extensive, in both the medical aspects and the human. Few people in this day and age have not been affected by Alzheimer’s, whether in their own family member, or that of an acquaintance. This book would be of great value to all of them. For myself, I will keep this book, reread it and share it. It is simply that good.
Lisa Genova holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard. Due in part to having a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, she was drawn to this discipline. In researching Still Alice, she became more involved with the disease. She is a member of several dementia advocacy groups and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. She lives in Cape Cod with her family. Still Alice is her first novel.
As Alice begins to have moments of forgetfulness and confusion she is diagnosed with the illness. Those around her are in denial and eventually have to face the fact that she is changing and becoming a different person and that it is permanent. There is the fears of the impact in their own health and life style changes for the family.
Alice is 51, and her mental health declines very quickly which has an immediate and overwhelming effect on the family. As she is unable to perform many of those regular tasks in her life and is left alone for short periods of time, there are serious consequences and some of those are described in this book. In reading about the things that Alice does and the things that happen to her, it fills one with a dread that we seldom speak of. We ask ourselves, what if that happens to me or to someone I love and care for? Alzheimer's is a terribly destructive disease for the patient and for all of those closely involved in their lives. You see the results of this in the lives of all that know and love Alice. There is still a stigma to this illness largely because of the unknown and bizarre turns that the illness can take along with the loss of a person they know and can depend upon to act in a certain way.
I didn’t want to read this book and several times found it hard to continue because of personal experiences with this terrible disease. It is well written and a book that we all should probably read. Genova did a very good job telling about the impact on family members, friends and work associations. I believe that for many, we fear this disease because we don’t understand it and it takes away all that we know and expect from those around us. I am glad the book was written and that I read it as an important and necessary bit of knowledge for ourselves and other. I recommended reading this “Still Alice”.