Sunday, April 17, 2011

Too Close To Home

Are you a reader?  I am.

And every once in a while (okay, in a very long while) a book will jump up and grab me by the throat.  Or, perhaps more accurately, the gut. 

I read a lot, good books, so-so books, really good books.   But those rare ones that really grab me - they hang on, they hurt and they tend not to want to let go.

It's been awhile since I've experienced that, though. And, the last time it happened, I ended up in The Deep End.

Having just come off my second P.T. Deuterman book (damm, that man can write!), I thought I might be in the mood for something a little different.  I wasn't quite sure what though. 

I am really into audiobooks as of late and if I am going to spend a credit on a book, I tend to make sure it's a lengthy one.  None of those abridged versions for me ... who the hell even decides what stays in and what goes out?

So I'm not sure why I purchased Still Alice.  Not sure exactly when either.  But the strange thing is it's a short book.  Only seven hours.  Ever hear of small but mighty?

Yeah, about that.

I identified with this book on so many levels and alternated between laughing and crying my way through it - yes, even once, at the same time.  Then again, that is one of my sayings - Some say that if you can either laugh or cry, you might as well laugh.  Me?  I prefer to do both at once.

Alice just turned 50.  For 25 years she has been a psychology professor at Harvard University. [Park the car in Harvard yard - sorry, side joke for any lost Bostonians in our midst.] 

Happily married to a biology prof at Harvard.  Three young adult children - all successful professionals ... okay, with the exception of her youngest who has deserted the life of academia to take up an acting career. But pretty much a perfect life.

Near the beginning of the story, Alice is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease.  This is the story of how Alice (and her family) comes to terms (or not) with that diagnosis and the progression of the disease.  Because progress it does.  It's heartbreaking in many places.   And equally humorous in others.

But I found myself identifying with the book Alice on two different levels.  It's been almost 2.5 years since my Mom passed away.  The last few years of her life were marred with dementia along with her other medical issues.  It wasn't Alzheimer's but, really, it was close enough. 

Which is why, in so many places, the story grabbed hold of my stomach and twisted.  Hard.  Although not told in the first person, the book paints the story from Alice's point of view.  I was familiar enough with the care giving other side - was this really what it was like from Mom's eyes?

Surprisingly (or not), I also found myself identifying with the story in other way.  Being a Harvard psychology professor, specializing in the cognition of linguistics, and a respected highly sought-after guest lecturer around the world, we might presume that Alice is just a wee bit on the intelligent side.  A hell of a lot smarter than me, that's for sure.  And yet I could identify with being proud and confident of that academic side, of defining yourself, at least somewhat, by your work.  You can imagine how devestating it was for Alice.

And although I am not too worried about dementia, personally, early onset or otherwise (although the book did make me ponder the fact that both my mother and grandmother experienced dementia to some degree before their deaths), I can identify with the concept of a hidden disability. A completely uncontrollable,  unpredictable enemy that can throw your life into a tailspin without a moment's notice.  One that (fortunately only very occasionally for me) can rob you of your ability to find the words you need and/or the ability to process thoughts at the level and speed you're accustomed to.  

MS isn't Alzheimer's, thank God. 

And yet, as I have recently discoverd, it can affect a person cognitively, as well as phsyically.  Luckily for me, on those rare occasions when it has, it would seem that others don't notice.  But I certainly do. 

Not only do I find it frustrating and irritating, but it's also very scary.  For the simple reason that, I suppose much like Alice, I tend to define myself, at least in part, by my 'book smarts'.  And if I'm trying to work my way through a research problem or, worse yet, talk to a client and my mind can't clear out the fuzz or find the words needed to express what I need to say ... yeah, let's just say it's not so good.

There's about 45 minutes left in my audiobook.  Which means, I suppose, that there are about 45 mintues left in Alice's life.  Alzheimer's being a progressive, debilitating, ultimately fatal disease. 

I don't want to read hear any more.  But I know the minute I walk away from this computer, I will finish the book.  I have to.  It's one of the best, most awful books I've read in a long time.


doorkeeper said...

sounds really good--maybe I should not. At least not now. But thanks for the tip--it'll go on my list. with a star, for warning.

tam said...

It is an excellent book MMC. I read it last summer and thought of my dad all the way through - is that how he saw the world? I also laughed and cried...and also at the same time.

She has written another book, "Left Neglected" about a woman who suffers a traumatic brain injury, and how she recovers. It's not quite as good as "Still Alice" but is still an interesting read. Unfortunately, I own it as a paperback and not audio..but you are still welcome to borrow it.

Sorry we missed each other on the weekend! Next time, I'll give you "my" directions - the directions from Tam Tam (as opposed to the GPS known as Tom Tom). Trust me, you would have ended up right where you were supposed to my house! LOL

hugs chickie.

tam :)

MMC said...

Thanks, ladies. It's nice to see some readers back at ye olde blog. ;-)

I was looking at thw write-up on the other book, Tam, but wasn't quite sure whether I wanted to take the plunge or not. BTW, I wasn't using Tom Tom this time, I used Google maps which turned out to be slightly screwed. Something tells me Tom Tom would have more likely been a better choice although I'm sure Tam Tam would have worked the best!

Kris, in New England said...

I give you alot of credit for being able to read a book like that, that hits so close to home. I just can't do it.

A friend of mine thought watching "One True Thing" about a year after my father died would be a good thing for me.

Meryl Streep's character has cancer in the book & film; my father died of kidney cancer. I got thru about 30 minutes of the movie and went completely hysterical, total meltdown.

I just can't do that kind of thing.

On a lighter note:

Park the car in Harvard yard

This should be written as it is spoken:

Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd. :-)

MMC said...

I'll get it figured out one of these days, Kris. Or else I will just have to keep going back to Boston until I get it right! Although, in my defence, I knew that those who knew would know ,.. if you know what I mean. :D

I had a somewhat similar experience to that you described watching One True Thing many many years ago -in fact it was another Meryl Streep movie, this one called First Do No Harm. Life was pretty much hell when it came to the Blue Jay's seizures when she was little and shortly after she went on the keto diet when she was five (which was the first thing that gave us even a drop of seizure control), I stumbled across this TV movie about the keto diet. So I watched it with Mom.

Or more accurately I watched the first hour and then taped the rest of it. By the time the first hour was up, I couldn't take any more, I was so totally upset. It was almost as if someone had taken the Blue Jay's story and substituted a little boy in the starring role and I was reliving it all over again. But the phone rang constantly during that first hour from friends and relatives calling to make sure I was watching it. I heard that ubiquitious comment "It will be good for you" repeated more than once that night.

Where do some people get off thinking they know what will be good for someone else anyway? A more appropriate response might be something along the lines of "I don't know if you would want to watch this or not but I wanted to let you know about it in case you wanted to see it". It seeme to me that it takes a lot of chutzpah to assume you know what will be good for someone else.

I watched the rest of the movie the next night, BTW, and was really glad I did. It was like watching a completely different show and not the least bit upsetting. Which was because at that half-way point, the kid went on the keto diet which stopped his seizures cold. I had a feeling it was going to have a happy ending but the first half was absolute hell to watch. This book bothered me nothing like that movie did, thank God, because if it had, I never would have even attempted to make it through to the end.