Tag Archives: alzheimer’s

We Are Not Ourselves: Why You Shouldn’t Read Book Reviews

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The only book assigned to me in high school that I didn’t finish reading was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. I made it far enough to write a term essay and also to know I didn’t need to finish reading it (to be fair, Pamela was published as a serial and Richardson probably wanted to finish the thing eons before he did, but popularity being popularity, the guy couldn’t say ‘no’ to churning out another excruciating letter).

I may not be in school anymore (!), but the guilt I feel in not finishing a book remains a combination of panic that I’ll be found out and a sort of bafflement that this terrible book had been assigned in the first place. Sure no one “assigned” Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, but they may as well have: the book reviews proclaimed its excellence and compared it with the genius of Franzen.

And this is why you shouldn’t bother with book reviews. As I committed another day’s worth of reading to this interminable and ponderous novel I kept reminding myself how well it was received elsewhere. Kept urging myself to find in the insufferable level of detail something akin to beauty or marvel. Kept assuring myself that this book had been awarded prizes and so had to be of some quality. The fault was mine, I thought, for being an impatient reader. Well, no more. 250 pages into an infinite waste of time, I stopped. I’d figured out where the plot was going (to give it it’s airing: an Irish-American family lives its life: the mother wants a bigger house, the father has early onset Alzheimer’s and the son is an undefined, ill-described mess of wanting to hit someone) and I didn’t care enough to force myself through the purchase of the overly expensive house, the unravelling of the Alzheimer’s mind and the (one can only assume) eventual character development of the son.

It’s very possible I’m wrong. That in my impatience for excruciating detail and an absence of conflict I’ve missed a gem of a novel. That said, I’d in no way encourage you to read this one. But then, this is a book review, and you’ve already stopped reading it.

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Filed under American literature, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction, Prize Winner, Worst Books

Still Alice: Moral Abnegation

                       

I was so prepared to like Lisa Genova’s *Still Alice*. I come from a family with Alzheimer’s disease. I’m fascinated by questions around euthanasia – when is not only morally right, but a moral right in and of itself? I found the idea of a novel narrated from the third person limited perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient (though how incredible would that first person narrative be?) compelling on its own terms: offering a voice to the people afflicted with a disease that renders them – or subjects them to voicelessness. 

And for the first two thirds of the novel I played along. Sure I took issue with the cinematic qualities of the narrative that screamed ‘MAKE ME INTO AN OSCAR WORTHY SCREENPLAY’ and the unidimensional cast of supporting characters (family members). But I was intrigued by Alice’s (albeit narratively superficial) attempts to make sense of a changing identity: and a violent forced change at that.

Where I lost respect for the novel as a social enterprise interested in asking what the rights of an Alzheimer’s patient might be (or anyone cognitively impaired) was in the singular dismissal of Alice’s express wishes to end her life when she lost her ability to identify herself as a self. Don’t mistake me – it’s not that I’m unhappy that she was kept alive (though I *am* unhappy that she was kept alive) my complaint is one with the narrative: rather than engage with her request, with this question about right-to-death, the narrative – in one tidy slip between chapters – forgets (!) to even ask the question: should we as a family kill Alice? Do we owe it to her sense of self, to her identity, to her wishes, to let her die? to assist her in her death? Nothing. Just a skip between paragraphs and she’s happy as a mindless, identity-less clam.

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