FIRST: This is a positive review of a well-plotted and paced novel which reads addictively. It reminded me in some ways of Agatha Christie immersed in a lab and not a country house…and with the most difficult problem…I chose this title because it is “set in a university”… Alice is about the most brilliant person in the world and has a jet-setting academic life–the kind where you get a grant to read a “paper” at a conference in Venice, New Orleans, London, the Biltmore. Alice’s life is a whirl of sabbaticals in Scotland; speeches in Sweden; meetings in Monaco; conventions in Colorado ski resorts. I can attest to this: this is the lifestyle of the American professor you want to subsidize in many ways. I’ve seen it in several places.This is an odd review of a book—going off on a rant—but it’s oddly consistent with STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova.
The books pricks in many places. The haunting specters of cognitive losses is panic inducing and why does your character have to be the most brilliant professor at Harvard? Why can’t she be a waitress in Kentucky and matter as much? So I approach this book in a combative mood. But I was with Alice from the start. And Genova gives her brilliance so that Alice will know, will tell us what she knows because she’s a specialist in the languages and patterns of neural transmitters and each little portion of the brain with its functions. So this strategy of Alice being able to know—until she doesn’t—why and how her decline is going–the very specific map—down to street names—allows Genova to explain the of nuances of dementia gracefully and readably. She shows us the details of the descent: from having a couple of little “blips” to public and private humiliations and awareness of it.The upshot is that she is still Alice–the person she was as a child. And don’t we all still identify with and remember the children we were? And isn’t it true that we have not changed in our essence? Alzheimer’s will bite away at that essence to the final crumb.And what about the people in your life? Who will embrace you? Who will flee? And are you entitled to make friends if you know you are not dealing with a full deck? You know you have “moderate” decline. Do you dare to call a friend? Won’t the friend run away? Genova reveals the panic and self-doubt of the stigmatized.