I actually feel bad about the review I'm about to give this book. I think the author's heart was in the right place. She wanted to write a novel detailing Alzheimer's from the patient's point of view, and give readers greater insight into what that decline is like, enlighten the reader about medical options, and remind readers that, no matter their mental state, these are still human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity, even if their outer behavior indicates otherwise.
A noble premise. But this book reads more like a movie of the week. There's sooooooo much telling of things that should be shown--or not shown or told at all. Dialogue is manipulated to add in all kinds of medical information in such a way that the dialogue is not only not believable, it's deadly dull. The characters are stereotypes. The Alzheimer's patient, Alice Howland, is--ready?--a Harvard professor of cognitive psychology.
It wasn't enough to make her brilliant, she had to be a specialist in cognitive matters before the arrival of early onset Alzheimer's. Then we get a husband who I think is meant to be conflicted and sympathetic, but comes off as selfish and whiny; three adult children, two of whom get testing to see if they'll get the Alzheimer's too and one who doesn't, so we can cover all those bases; and of course, Alice has been at odds with one of her daughters for years. Can you guess how their relationship plays out in this book? Of course you can. Oh, and as she's sliding into dementia, she's invited to give a big speech to the Alzheimer's Association. Can she do it? Will she be able to give a moving, intelligent talk that will inspire everyone? What do you think?
There were times when so many facts were shoved into the text that I was reminded of historical novels where the author has done a lot of research and is determined to make sure the reader notices. There were some little oddities that kept annoying me, like the characters all referring to it as "Alzheimer's disease." I don't know anyone, including my mother's doctors and facility staff, who say anything other than "Alzheimer's." C'mon, Alzheimer's is a mouthful all by itself, you really don't need to tack on "disease" at the end of it, and besides, who doesn't know what Alzheimer's is?
There are some good points. There's a very touching scene when her boss confronts her about some bad student evaluations and asks if there's anything going on at home. She realizes that he's expecting to be told that she's got an addiction or marital problems, or something like that, but when she tells him the truth, she wishes she had one of those other situations instead. Her interactions with others confirm her suspicion that having Alzheimer's scares people away, or causes them to condescent to her, as if she's stupid or crazy.
But unfortunately, these moments are too far and few between. Author Genova is earnest in her desire to educate people about Alzheimer's (disease), but earnestness is not a guarantee of a well-written novel. If you want to read a much better book, check out Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind.
And if you want a brief but insightful overview of what Alzheimer's does to the human brain, check out this short video.