After blubbing my way through Love Anthony by Lisa Genova last year, I had a feeling I would also need the tissue box close by when I read Still Alice. I was right. Sniff. Gulp.
Still Alice is the story of Alice, a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard University, who is happily married with grown up children. Alice’s life is terrifyingly busy, as well as teaching, she travels to conferences, serves on exam committees, speaks publicly, has a social life, and finds time to run. She is also incredibly intelligent, to the point where if she was real, her friendships would be limited to people she works with. However, as a character, I liked Alice, felt as if I knew her and felt empathy for her situation.
The first sign for Alice that something is wrong is while guest speaking at Stanford, when a word gets stuck on the tip of her tongue. Then she goes out for a run and gets lost a mile from home, in an area she knows as well as the back of her hand.
Alice seeks medical advice but continues to suffer from what she calls memory disturbances. Her doctor runs a series of tests, and diagnoses her with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice is fifty.
The chapters are broken into months, and document Alice’s memory decline over the next 18 months. Her decline is rapid. She begins with forgetting small things, then big. Sometimes she is completely lucid and at other times, she drives her family mad by asking them the same thing over and over again. Alice works for as long as she is able, but has to give up teaching when her performance starts to impact her students. There are times when she does not recognise her children.
Alice’s family cope with her health changes in ways entirely suited to their personalities. Alice’s husband gets lost in his work, her son goes missing emotionally, one daughter, who is about to become a mother herself takes more and more responsibility for Alice, while her youngest daughter, an actress, is the one who is best able to connect with Alice emotionally as her health deteriorates.
I read Still Alice over a couple of hours. The story educated me about Alzheimer’s disease, which is clearly a terrible, terrible disease, but I also happy to get to know Alice and her family while reading this story. I will probably seek out the movie of the same name soon, no doubt with a tissue box close by again.