Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Book Review: Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
Author: Lisa Genova
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Content Alert: Swearing, maybe a (not graphic) sex scene
When Joe O'Brien starts dropping dishes at the dinner table, or seems a little more short-tempered than usual, his family doesn't pay much attention to it. As a Boston police officer and the patriarch of a clan of four adult kids, Joe, in his mid-forties when the book opens, just chalks everything up to stress. But when he develops more troubling symptoms, he agrees to see a doctor, who diagnoses him with Huntington's Disease, a genetic, fatal neurological disorder, and then gives him the even more devastating news: his children each have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Inside the O'Briens, written by Lisa Genova, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist and author of Still Alice (for which Julianne Moore won an Oscar this year), focuses much of its attention on Joe's kids, and how each of them process their own relationship with the disease as they watch their father display more symptoms.
Genova knows how to create an engaging story and to get at the emotional heart of an issue. I feel a little bit like her modus operandi as an author is to pick a disease (Alzheimer's in Still Alice, Huntington's in Inside the O'Briens) and to write a novel about how that disease drops a bomb into the lives of the family who confronts it. I'm not sure I like that strategy (is it too didactic?), but I won't argue that it's effective. I was particularly invested in Katie, the youngest daughter, who feels that her life is on hold until she knows whether or not she too has the genetic markers for the disease. I think Genova definitely accomplished her goal of humanizing Huntington's Disease and raising public consciousness surrounding it.