Publisher: Gallery Books, 2011
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
Why I Read It: After being blown away by Genova’s first book, Still Alice, I knew I wanted to read her second book as well
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Sarah Nickerson is an upwardly mobile mother of three who works 80-hours a week at a high-powered job for a consulting firm near Boston. When we meet her, we quickly realize that Sarah’s life is overly scheduled, with little time for relaxation, her children or personal time. She’s the type of mom who shows up at a soccer game once a season and spends the entire game trying to find cell phone coverage to conduct a conference call for work. Then a car accident leaves her with a traumatic brain injury and a condition known as Left Neglect, which means she is unaware of anything on her left, including her own body. The accident puts the brakes on her non-stop lifestyle … even bringing her long estranged mother back into her life. As Sarah struggles to learn to cope with Left Neglect, her life begins to change drastically, but perhaps in a way that is better for her and her family.
Neuroscientist Genova’s first book, Still Alice, dealt with another neurological condition, Alzheimer’s disease. It was artfully down and affected me emotionally. (I think I was sobbing through the entire last third of the book.) Genova has a gift for writing about neurological conditions and helping the reader to experience these conditions by writing from a patient’s point of view. Although she manages to clearly and thoroughly explain the challenges facing people with Left Neglect, the book just doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as Still Alice. Although Left Neglect is a fascinating condition, it just isn’t as heart-breaking as Alzheimer’s.
Another reason I felt less involved with this story is because the Sarah we first meet in this book is somewhat unlikable. Her life seems ridiculously busy and structured, and I found myself wondering why she even bothered to have children in the first place. They seemed like something to be managed rather than loved. Her focus on her career and doing everything and doing it perfectly seemed shallow and empty. I didn’t really like her all that much. I see why Genova may have made Sarah this way (so she can experience an epiphany as she is forced to slow down due to the accident), but it felt too manufactured to feel authentic. Plus I just didn’t think the ending that Genova gave Sarah and her family was realistic. It felt too convenient and tidy. I think that perhaps Genova’s background as a neuroscientist is her strength and her novel-writing skills haven’t caught up. She is brilliant at explaining the medical stuff but her story idea felt too much like a connect the dots plot.
Still, the book isn’t bad, and the condition of Left Neglect was interesting to learn about. It boggles my mind that someone could experience this. Although the plot felt a bit wooden and unbelievable, Genova does a brilliant job of explaining what must be a frustrating and confusing condition.
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