by Maryann Miller 

Alice Howland, a Harvard professor of linguistics has trouble remembering a few things. But she doesn’t worry that there is something seriously wrong with her. After all, her husband, John, keeps forgetting where he put his keys, but that assurance is shattered the day Alice forgets how to get home after her morning jog. She stands in the middle of Harvard Square and has no idea which street she needs to take to find her house. That experience scares her enough that she goes to see a neurologist, who, after a series of tests, diagnoses Alice with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Because the story is fiction, and fiction often comes with a happy ending, I kept waiting for the miracle. The diagnosis would be a mistake, or the clinical trial would work and Alice would somehow recover. But the book is so laced with reality, the “happy ever after” ending just wouldn’t work. Alzheimer’s is a slow, emotionally wrenching, death of cognition that affects family and friends almost as severely as it affects the patient.  Still Alice  chronicles that demise accurately as it happens to the Howland family, and they all struggle toward acceptance. But this is not a sad or depressing read. It is positive and uplifting.

As the central character finds unique ways to maintain her dignity and her tenuous hold on reality, she makes a plea for all people with dementia to be treated with respect. “We, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are not yet utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended periods of lucidity. Yet, we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our former lives.”

She ends that speech by asking doctors to step up research to find a cure for the disease, and asking the medical community and the general public not to run away from people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, but to work with them to maintain and celebrate who they are. “I am not what I say or what I do. I am fundamentally more than that.”

And that is the heart of Still Alice as she, and her family, try to hang on to the fundamental part of her that doesn’t change because she can no longer remember who they are.

Books published by iUniverse are often not very well written or edited, but this one could have easily come from a major publisher like Knopf.  The depth of characterization and insight into human relationships reminded me of books by Anne Tyler, and the narrative was just as strong, with the facts about the disease seamlessly woven in.

Still Alice is endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association and a portion of the sale of each book is donated to research.

Still Alice
Lisa Genova
iUniverse
Paperback – $18.95
ISBN: 978-0-595-44009-2

Maryann Miller: http://www.maryannwrites.com

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