Lisa Genova is an American neuroscientist and author. Still Alice was self-published in 2007 after what the author described as 100 unsuccessful quire letters. The author describes selling the book “out of the trunk of my car” until Simon Shuster published the book in trade paper back and it debuted at #5 on the New York Times best seller list. Julianna Moore won an academy award for best leading actress in 2015 for her role in “Still Alice.”
Still Alice is about the onset of dementia from young Alzheimer’s disease occurring in a 50-year-old psychology professor. It starts as she experiences moments of forgetting and confusion. She eventually loses her ability to rely on her own thoughts and memories as well as her cerebral life at her job where she placed all her worth and identity. As the disease worsens and continues to steal what she had always thought of as herself we see her discover there is more to her than what she can remember.
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1. What were your thoughts and impressions of Alzheimer’s disease before reading this book, especially as it would affect a younger person? How did your impressions change after reading the book? Do you think the book did a good job of illustrating what it would feel like to have the disease?
2. Which character did you empathize with the most?
3. Alice’s identity was in large part defined by her mind, as she was a professor of linguistics. Do you think that made the abrupt loss of her cognitive abilities even more heartbreaking? How did the disease affect other traits— say her capacity to bond emotionally and spiritually? Are the arts and stories something that someone with this disease can continue to appreciate?
4. Who in Alice’s life do you think was the most supportive of her coping with this condition?
5. If your parent was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and you could take a blood test to know your chances of getting it, would you want to know? Why or why not?
6. The book was originally self-published as the author was not able to find a publisher for it. Any theories on why?
7. People often say what does not kill us makes us stronger. Is that true in this case?
8. How do you think our society treats people with Alzheimer’s?
9. What did you think of the way the book ended?
10. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
[From BOOK club babble]
Lisa Genova’s debut novel is about a 50-year-old woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It follows Alice Howland for two years, from forgetfulness to not knowing her new grandchild. Early chapters could alarm readers over 40, who have occasional memory lapses.
The author explains the difference between ordinary forgetfulness and the accumulating cognitive failures that signal Alzheimer’s. The author creates a believable, heroine while accurately chronically the course of the disease.
As Alice’s disease progresses, she faces issues with her husband’s decisions, and he in turn is tormented by the hopelessness of the situation and the need to continue with his life. It does not seem as though he is being selfish but that in a way, he is being selfless by pursuing opportunities in a way that he would not begrudge his wife’s illness.
A positive outcome of this devastating experience is that Alice becomes closer to her daughter who decides on an acting career and to her son whose lack of academic zeal is quite uncharacteristic of the life that his parents lead. As the disease progresses Alice becomes more understanding and less judgmental. This could be considered a convenient turn for the plot more than an accurate description of how this disease might progress.
The remainder of the book chronicles Alice’s continuing decline. The author’s explanation of the difference between early onset Alzheimer’s with its devastating genetic implications and age-related Alzheimer’s is valuable information to somebody who has read about the disease, seen the flyers asking for donations and so forth, but has not really understood it.
For a book about a very devastating disease in an otherwise undeserving person this sad tale ends up being at least for this reader positive and uplifting. With all the notoriety about this condition that we are learning a great deal more about and which at least for the later onset version will only increase as our longevity increases this as an important reading experience.
By Gene Helveston
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