This summer my aunt sent me a copy of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, a novel about a 50-year-old Harvard professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Scanning the back cover my eyes rested on the phrases “searing spotlight” and “dread disease,” tempting me to set the book on the bookshelf unread. My own dread disease of stage IV cancer already dominates much of the landscape in my life—why devote precious summer hours to another tale of grief? Breezy novels about beaches and sunsets seemed a more attractive option.
But the book was a gift, so I decided to give it a few pages. It didn’t take long to be drawn in to Genova’s chronicling of the cracks in Alice’s wonderful life. A thriving professional woman at the height of her career, Alice’s life was rich with things we in academia covet: smart students, speaking engagements in lovely locales, always-engaging campus environment. Amidst the loveliness of her life, the forgetting begins slowly, almost undetectably, building to a silent roar that only Alice can hear. She initially hides her diagnosis from everyone in her life, hoping that if she doesn’t say the words “early onset Alzheimer’s” out loud she can prevent the disease from taking control. But take control it does, and the rest of this first-person narrative walks the reader down the treacherous path that Alice must take as her life becomes increasingly dictated by the disease.