Still Alice Book Review
Not only is Still Alice populated with great characters and vivid writing, it approaches a topic that deserves more attention. The main character, Alice Howland, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 50. Slowly, all of Alice’s passions are stolen from her. As a tenured psychology professor at Harvard, Alice’s early symptoms force her to stop attending speaking engagements and psychology conferences. Less than six months after her diagnosis, Alice is forced to stop teaching. It becomes harder and harder for Alice to participate in conversations, she gets lost in familiar places, repeats things she said minutes before, and is unable to comprehend reading material.
Although the Alzheimer’s infects every area of her life, the central focus surrounds how Alice’s family learns to live with her disease. Alice and her husband, John, have three children in their 20’s, all of whom have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene that precedes Alzheimer’s. When Alice’s oldest daughter finds out she has the gene, she has to reconsider her decision to start a family.
Point of View and Structure
The third person limited perspective gives the reader the perfect balance of Alice’s personal perspective of the situation without having the mess of an unreliable narrator. Her dementia comes across clearly without confusing the reader. Genova brilliantly used repetition to describe Alice’s short-term memory loss.
Every chapter represented one month in Still Alice. Genova typically focused each chapter on one or more events that show the progression of the disease. This consistent timeline helps the reader understand how fast the disease progresses.
Alzheimer’s vs Cancer: the public opinion
Genova describes the social stigma of Alzheimer’s brilliantly in the following passage:
[Alice] wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.
Alzheimer’s disease was an entirely different kind of beast. There were no weapons that could slay it. Taking Aricept and Namenda felt like aiming a couple of leaky squirt guns in the face of a blazing fire.
5 stars. Read this book! Not only is it an entertaining, emotional story, but it covers a topic every individual should learn more about. Now a major motion picture, I plan to rent the movie when it comes out on DVD and I have high expectations. 🙂