Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Akhirnya’s #CBR4 Reads #1-3: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, and Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

First posts for the new CBR and I’m already several reviews behind.  Ah, well!  Once more into the fray..

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (292p.)  (5 Stars)

This is a haunting fictional memoir of an early-onset Alzheimer’s patient.  In her early 50s, Alice is at the top of her career: a star professor at Harvard University at the pinnacle of her research career, a wife to another professor, and mother of three grown children. Initially thinking that her symptoms might be a sign of menopause, she goes to the doctor for a check up only to find out that it’s something much worse.   The rest of the novel deals with Alice’s experience as her disease progressively destroys more and more of her memory.

This was beautifully written.  As the book unfolds, it becomes so much more obvious how Alice is unable to stand as a truthful narrator.  Through her interactions with others, we can see not only her view on how the disease has effected her, but also how it has impacted her family and friends, who experience many more of Alice’s symptoms than Alice is capable of remembering herself.  Alice’s growing inability to communicate, despite largely understanding the implications of the conversations around her, is heart breaking.

I don’t want to spoil anything by getting too detailed in the things that Alice and her caretakers experience, but Genova seems to touch on as many major experiences that a sufferers or caretakers have happen to them as possible.

I can be pretty persnickety when it comes to books and as much as I would love to nitpick Still Alice, I’m not going to.  This book stayed with me for days, constantly jogged to mind whenever a friend or family member would randomly display one of the many symptoms (which are simple as forgetting something).  A must read in general, but a definite must-read if you’ve personal experience with the disease.

 

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (368p.) (2 Stars)

This novel also deals with the issues of memory and the mind, with the protagonist both an amnesiac unable to recall her past in full and suffering from an inability to process and remember new memories.  Christine lives from day to day, never remembering her past, and always forgetting what happens the day before with her sleep cycle ‘resetting’ her brain.

Unlike Still Alice, this novel isn’t meant to be a treatise on patient experience and the ins and outs of memory loss.  Christine has a mystery to solve as she tries to secretly undergo treatment and understand that past that she can’t remember with the help of her husband, Ben.  The plot thickens, as they say, and the story becomes more and more sinister as Christine realizes that people aren’t telling her the truth and she has to figure out who she can trust, if anyone, she can trust.  Given her condition, she can’t even trust herself.

If you’re going to read this book expecting something of Memento–like  proportions, you are going to be crushed and disappointed.  It’s not at that level.  The evil and dastardly plot is implausible, loopholes abound, and you’ll probably see the surprise ending coming from a mile away.   However, it worked for me as a fun, if trashy read and would only recommend it as such (but even then, I’m not sure it’d be at the top of my list).

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (320p.) (1 Star)

The difficulty with memoirs is that, no matter how well written they might be, it really comes down to how you feel about the person in question.  I’ve heard about this book for some time, but Hamilton’s name didn’t spark any recognition for me, which is hardly surprising considering I’m not a NYC foodie.

There is something to be said for Hamilton, who very likely gave an unbelievably accurate portrait of herself.  And that portrait was far from pretty.   Her writing is soaked with bitterness and anger; she does not portray herself in a positive light at all.  Considering that the author is far from old and that she has a business relying on her name, it certainly took a great deal of bravado to paint such a negative portrait of herself.  And there is something to be said for that.  However, I just couldn’t really give a damn about her as a consequence.

Although parts of this book deal with the ‘chef’ aspect of Hamilton’s life, great chunks of it are taken up with her family history and current relationships.  I don’t really feel that the title is false advertising, because after all, education has many meanings and can more broadly cover all of her life experiences.  But if you’re working for a memoir solely about life in restaurants or the kitchen, then this isn’t recommended as the focus upon that is really minimal.

Not recommended.

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