Book Report: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

On Monday night, we told ourselves we were going to do the following: Waste 30 bucks on a useless item for an extended-family grab bag, stop by the Verizon store, clean the bathroom, and wrap three presents.

Instead we went home, planted ourselves on the couch, and stayed up until 2 a.m. reading a book we grabbed from the office freebie pile.

All told, we’re pretty sure we made the appropriate decision…because Still Alice by local writer Lisa Genova is great.

We were not immediately taken by the novel, if only because the cover features a turquoise butterfly. (We prefer to read fiction with serious covers so as to assault fellow commuters with proof of our intelligence.) But it grew on us within the first 10 pages.

Still Alice initially appealed for purely voyeuristic reasons: The protagonist, a Harvard psychology professor, enjoys what might be our Platonic ideal of life. Alice works in academia, walks the mile to work every morning (stopping to get tea on the way), goes for jogs through Harvard Square to clear her mind, and has a brilliant-scientist husband and three grown children.

But when her own carefully callibrated to-do lists become bewildering and she starts to get lost blocks from home during those runs, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The bulk of the story addresses the emotional fall-out of what Genova calls “the horrifying and inevitable descent” into dementia.

As the novel progressed, we began to appreciate the writing’s quiet grace and emotional astuteness. Alice’s reactions are, for anyone who has ever watched a family member battle the disease, painfully real. What’s more, Genova’s background in dementia research lends a great deal of both credibility and empathy to the story.

If we needed one more reason to love this book, we found it on Still Alice’s website. Turns out that after being repeatedly shot down by agents and publishers, Genova self-published. Good for her!

Now go buy it.

(P.S. If you’re dying to go on a neurodegenerative-disease book bender (because really, who isn’t?), we also recommend Life in the Balance by Boston cardiologist Tom Graboys and, non-locally, Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler.)


Still Alice by Lisa Genova, 303 pages, $15, available 1/9/09.