The heart-wrenching tale of 50-year-old Alice Howland and her early onset Alzheimer's diagnosis is narrated eloquently by author Lisa Genova. Alice, a successful linguistics professor at Harvard, is married to John, an equally esteemed Harvard professor, and together they have three grown children. Her biggest worry in life is her youngest daughter's move to L.A. to pursue acting until Alice starts forgetting things. It begins innocuously enough: misplacing her BlackBerry, missing unimportant appointments on her to-do list, searching her mind for tip-of-the-tongue phrases. But when she goes on her familiar daily run through Cambridge, and becomes disoriented just one mile from home, Alice knows something is terribly wrong.
A battery of tests and multiple doctor visits later, her worst nightmare is confirmed she is in the first stages of early onset Alzheimer's disease. Told from Alice's perspective, it's a frighteningly keen insight to the slow deterioration of a debilitating disease. Every nuance of pain, frustration, fear, and sorrow is captured in Genova's voice and she expertly utilizes the pregnant pause, and short, choppy sentences to convey the confusion and pain of Howland's thoughts during testing and diagnosis.
Genova's slight Boston accent lends authenticity to the story, and she doesn't oversell the emotion behind the words. Her transitions between character dialogue are smooth and subtle, but she so embodies the main character Alice, it's hard to remember that it is Genova, and not Howland herself, telling her story. Knowing its being read exactly as it was intended by the author creates an even stronger connection to the work. Equally present is the devastating effect this illness has on Alice's husband, children, and coworkers. And while there's obviously no happy ending in sight, Genova still manages to paint a story of hope, reminding listeners that even in the midst of great loss and suffering, love remains. Colleen Oakley