Edwin Ployhart on Still Alice, a Novel by Lisa Genova

February 7, 2011

By: Edwin Ployhart

One of the most realistic depictions of Alzheimer’s disease ever written, Still Alice traces the decline of Alice Howland, a Harvard psychology professor and esteemed linguist. When she begins experiencing slight lapses in memory, she blames normal biological changes, but as the symptoms progress, Howland realizes that something must be wrong. She sees a neurologist and receives a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s. As she rapidly deteriorates, she loses the ability to teach and interact critically with those in her department. Without her Harvard professor identity, Howland struggles to create a new sense of self but loses to increasingly severe dementia. Alice’s husband, John, likewise labors to accept his wife’s fate. Also a Harvard professor, John retreats into his research and becomes despondent as his wife, once his intellectual match, fails to formulate complete thoughts. Still worse, Howland inherited her condition from her father, meaning that any of her three children may suffer a similar fate. The novel details not only Alice’s disease, but also the reactions her children have to their mother’s degeneration and the realization that they may one day face Alzheimer’s first-hand.

Still Alice is Lisa Genova’s debut novel. A Harvard graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience, Genova uses her own experiences and research to inform the novel. Genova recently completed a second novel, Left Neglected, which chronicles a young woman’s struggle with left neglect, a neurological syndrome that causes the brain to ignore any message originating from the left side of the body. With recovery uncertain, the novel’s protagonist faces not only the challenge of coping with such a catastrophic diagnosis, but also the fear that it may never improve.

To watch Genova discussing Still Alice, play the following video:

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