I’m normally not the kind of person who gets scared while reading a book. Zombies, ghosts, vampires, end of the world…bring it on. But books about something that is a very real risk are in another category. This newest story by Lisa Genova is one of those books, one that will keep you thinking long after the last page has been turned.
Joe O’Brien is a happy man. He’s a proud member of the Boston police force, and his few days off are spent with his wife Rosie and their large family. They’re a classically close Irish family, even eating Sunday dinner together every week. Things aren’t perfect, and life is hard. But Joe understands it’s the small things that matter, things like watching baseball with his sons or watching his daughter dance with the Boston ballet.
But then things start to go wrong. At first it’s hardly noticeable, a forgotten word here and there. Things gradually get worse as Joe starts to experience extreme mood swings, stumbling from time to time, forgetting things on a regular basis. When Rosie finally persuades Joe to go to the doctor, neither one of them is prepared for the diagnosis of Huntington’s disease. So begins their adjustment to living with a progressive and fatal disease.
That’s not the worst part for Joe, though. He has to live with the fact that each of his four children has a 50% chance of carrying the gene for Huntington’s and eventually developing symptoms. Not only do they all have to live with this shadow looming over them, but they also must each decide if they want to be tested, to find out if they carry the gene that will eventually cause their premature death.
Without giving away too much, I will say that I was very satisfied with how this story ended. Rather than wrapping everything up in a nice, neat package for the reader, the author leaves us wondering a bit, deciding for ourselves just how we want it to end. There’s enough of a resolution to avoid a cliffhanger without making the conclusion seemed forced.
Genova has a way of getting right to the heart of the matter, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, or Huntington’s disease she’s writing about. As a neuroscientist she brings an air of credibility to her writing that makes the stories so much more authentic. But she also brings plausibility to her characters and makes them lovable in spite of their very real faults. I’ve read every book written by this author, and each one has been better than the last.
Buy It Now: Inside the O’Briens: A Novel