Thursday, June 7, 2018

Still Alice

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter.”

I've been on a bit of a Lisa Genova kick since stumbling upon her through her most recent novel, "Every Note Played." My second experience with Genova was with "Inside the O'Briens" which has turned out to be my favorite novel of Genova's so far and having said that, I'm not entirely surprised that I didn't love this book as much as the first two I read. While this book still falls into the unique and heartwarming genre that Genova seems to have created all on her own, I just didn't connect to it like I did the others.

I do however, feel that this book brings about a controversial and important topic that many people aren't aware of and many who are aware of it avoid discussions due to the controversy and discomfort surrounding it. "Inside the O'Briens" slightly touches upon this topic but not to the extent that this book does; the topic of Death with Dignity.

I first heard of this concept several years ago when I learned about Brittany Maynard, a beautiful, otherwise healthy 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with an excruciating and aggressive form of brain cancer that offered her less than 6 months to live. Maynard did some research and discovered out that Oregon is one of the states that has legalized Death with Dignity, allowing doctors to prescribe fatal doses of barbiturates to terminally ill patients who are able to choose when and how they die prior to experiencing the worst symptoms of their diseases and/or death at the discretion of the disease. Maynard immediately made arrangements to move to Oregon. Exactly one month before her 30th birthday, Brittany took the lethal dose of medication and died with dignity, on her own terms, peacefully and surrounded by her family.

Since reading about Brittany and her tremendous courage, I have been a strong advocate for the passage of Death with Dignity laws. When I think of her and also Alice, in the novel, describing the progressive symptoms of their diseases, crippling them on so many levels, I cannot imagine how anyone could not agree with the mercy that Death with Dignity offers to these people, not to mention the control that it gives them when so many other things that they would normally have control of in their lives have been stolen from them.

With this story, Genova not only sheds light on the realities of Alzheimer's Disease for the individual diagnosed but also for the friends and family of those who have been diagnosed but it raises various questions and awareness about Death with Dignity. For this and so much more, I find "Still Alice" to be an incredibly important book.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Inside the O'Briens

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Oh, how I fell in love with the O'Brien family! These characters are beautifully human, imperfections and all. I felt as though I was sitting around the table with them during their Sunday family dinners loving every story, playful joke, and inappropriate comment. The O'Briens, albeit Irish in both their traditions and their surname, are a true American family.

Joe, the patriarch of the family, discovers that he has Huntington's Disease, a horrible, progressive and degenerative disease--much like ALS--that delivers an early death sentence to the person diagnosed. Unlike ALS, Huntington's is genetic, and what readers find out through the story is that because Joe is gene positive for the disease, each of his four children carry a 50/50 chance of also being gene positive, and so on and so forth for their future children as well.

So begins a painful and frightening journey for this beautiful family as they struggle not only with Joe's recent diagnosis but also with the possibility that 4 other members of the family could also be carrying this horrible gene. It comes to light that the O'Brien kids are able to receive genetic testing to find out whether or not they are gene positive giving them some insight into their own futures and also providing them with pertinent information for making future decisions, such as whether or not to have their own children, and the struggle of Huntington's continues as they each try to decide whether or not to be tested.

Throw in the fact that JJ, the O'Brien's oldest son has just found out that his wife is pregnant and readers must stretch their heartache for this family even further.

There are so many worries and frustrations inside of this beautiful family, all of which rest incredibly heavy on the shoulders of Joe, who is not only dealing with the development of physical and emotional symptoms of Huntington's but also that he has possibly passed this disease onto his children and grandchildren--not to mention that he will be widowing his wife much earlier than any of them ever expected.

The way this family deals with this incredibly heart-wrenching and unfair diagnosis is real and raw. Most importantly, in the end, despite all of the fears that still loom in the backs of their minds, they continue to love and lean on one another. As long as they have each other, they have everything.

I loved that this book was slightly different from Genova's most recent release about a man who is diagnosed with ALS and how it progresses in him all the way up to his death. This book, while offering a lot of information about Huntington's Disease focuses more on the family dynamic of the O'Briens. Even though the diagnosis is there and is obviously the entire reason for the story and what the O'Briens are going through, Genova gives readers more of the family dynamic than anything else here.

Once again, Genova has presented an incredible story with fascinating information about a disease that isn't well-known while keeping readers entertained and sympathetic towards a wonderful cast of characters. This is a great read!

A NOTE ON THE AUDIOBOOK: This story is read by Skipp Sudduth. I was first introduced to this actor as Sully, a police officer in the television series Third Watch. I found it appropriate that he was narrating a story where Joe, the main character is a Boston police officer and not only that but there is a Sully's Pub in the story as well! How's that for coincidence. Sudduth did a great job of narrating the story and I'm glad I got to visualize him as the character of Joe in kind of a resurrection of sorts of his previous acting gig as a police officer.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tin Man

"This is almost a love story, but it's not as simple as that."

“And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.”

My initial interest in this book came about after reading early reviews prior to its release. The remainder of my interest was purely aesthetic. I was drawn to the beautiful cover of the book as well as to the title which invoked feelings of nostalgia derived from my childhood (and adulthood) love of all things 'The Wizard of Oz.'

I was surprised when I first saw the book--expecting it to be the size of a standard issue novel--stacked on the 'New Releases' table looking no bigger than a field guide. Do not let the small size fool you. Winman may have produced a slim little volume in her third novel but make no mistake, this book packs quite the punch.

Winman not only has a way with words and language--this is one of the most beautifully written novels that I have read in quite some time--but she also has a talent for writing in a style that I can only best describe as modern stream-of-consciousness. This is a book of memories.

I felt like as though the three main characters, although Annie may not necessarily be considered a main character depending on who you ask, were dear friends of mine. I loved each one of them for very different reasons but I loved them the most when they were together.

I think Winman did a brilliant job of portraying the plight of homosexual men as they struggle to entrust their sexual identities to other people but primarily within themselves, as some, like Ellis, simply cannot gather the courage to ever reveal, or to fully live, their true selves. Although acceptance is more prevalent these days as opposed to during the 80's and 90's as set in some of the scenes in the novel, homosexuality is still something that is viewed as an alternative lifestyle and the struggle, though slightly different, is still very real today.

Ellis and Michael are separated for the majority of their lives and they each experience individual hardships. Although they are apart, they are never far from one another's thoughts and the fact that what they desperately needed the most in all of those years of suffering in between were each other is tragic. Having said that, the true heartbreak occurs once they are finally reunited.

Aside from all of the feelings of love and heartache that this story stirs within the reader, Winman also places heavy emphasis on art. From 'The Sunflowers' painting by Van Gogh that beautifully graces the dust jacket of the book as well as the wall in Ellis and Michael's childhood home to the various letters and photographs that surface throughout the novel, the power of art and its expression prevails as one of the main themes of the book.

As soon as I arrived at the last page I had not even finished grieving for the end of the book before flipping back to the first page to begin the experience all over again. I absolutely adored this novel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How To Walk Away

“More than anything, I know that you just have to choose to make the best of things. You get one life, and it only goes forward. And there really are all kinds of happy endings.”

This will probably be one of the best beach reads of the summer. This is a quick, fun-loving, heart-warming, funny read. I loved almost every character in the book and championed for all of them throughout each of their independent struggles and as they struggled together. Center keeps the reader engaged with little twists here and there and delivers an easy, albeit satisfying conclusion.

The Epilogue reads just like the ending of Disney's Tangled as narrates by Rapunzel and made me think that this story would make the perfect romantic comedy.

Now...who to cast for the main characters?? Here's a running list of what I have so far...

Margaret (Maggie): Rachel McAdams?

Kit: Isla Fisher?

Margaret's Mother: Jane Fonda? (too old?)

Margaret's Father: The actor who plays Coach in the old TV show--and the Dad in The Family Stone

Ian: Idris Alba? (too soon after The Mountain Between Us??)

Chip: Shia LeBouf?

Chip's Mother: Emily Gilmore...wait, what is the actress's real name??

Tara: Megan Fox?

Still Alice

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tom...