Every Note Played follows Lisa Genova’s usual pattern of introducing the reader to a character who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness (or is about to be) then follows them through their daily life until they die. I’m not sure why I read her books, especially since I am not at all medically-minded, can’t stand the sight of band-aids and would rather clean the bathroom than accidentally see blood, guts or body parts on one of those medical emergency shows on television.
Despite my aversion to the medical nature of Lisa Genova’s plots, I read Every Note Played whose main character, Richard, develops ALS. Richard is a middle-aged concert pianist who first notices a tremor in his right hand. Bit by bit, his entire right arm becomes paralysed, then his left arm. Richard’s ex-wife, Karina, eventually takes Richard back into their old family home and cares for him until his death.
Richard and Karina’s relationship was complicated. They divorced because he played around. She blamed him for ruining her career as a jazz pianist, while he blamed her for not wanting more children than the one daughter they had. Their relationship should have been more interesting than it was portrayed, but I think Lisa Genova is better at describing how an illness manifests than she is at developing her character’s personalities and personal growth. It didn’t help that Richard was a selfish git and Karina was self-pitying martyr.
I was confused about what ALS was until I realised that in Australia, ALS is known as motor neuron disease. In other parts of the world, ALS is called Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Lisa Genova does a great job of teaching readers about the diseases she uses in her fiction, but I doubt that anybody who had one of these diseases would want to read her stories. The characters usually come to terms with the issues in their relationships before their end comes but the medical side of this story is stronger than the characters development.