Lisa Genova is one of my ALL time favorite authors. Her books are so easy to get lost in and the content is so incredibly interesting. Excluding Every Note Played, she only has 4 books and it seemed like we were all waiting for eternity on this book to be released. You could easily read ALL of her books within a month’s time just because of how easy it is to get attached to them.
If you don’t know, Lisa Genova’s books are centered around some sort of medical disease. Now, I know what you’re thinking: why would I want to read about a bunch of medical jargon? But that is so far from the truth. The truth is that Lisa Genova has perfected the seamless style of story telling while simultaneously connecting to a plethora of elements: medical setbacks, struggles, relationships and love. She links the struggles of these diseases and ties them together with a story of family, love, loyalty, what it means to be there when times get tough. What I love most about her is she has an uncanny and seemingly simple way of picking you up off your couch (or wherever it is you’re reading) and dropping you inside the mind of these characters that are struggling with these diseases. I’ve learned so much about the medical diseases she writes about and her books truly have opened my eyes to what people who struggle with them go through, as well as their family and caregivers. Can you tell I’m a fan of Lisa Genova’s? To quickly give a recap on her first 4 novels to set the stage, they are not related to each other so you can easily pick up any of them without finding yourself confused.
**For the actual review on this book feel free to scroll past the quick recaps below if you’ve already read the books or just simply don’t feel like reading them!**
Still Alice: This book was eventually turned into a motion picture starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart. I always say, books are always better than the movie but this movie was pretty amazing. Alice finds herself developing early onset Alzheimer’s and we walk through this new journey with her and we quite literally feel her pain and struggle as she navigates this new, unfamiliar life.
Left Neglected: Sarah is your typical go-getter balancing her career and family when she finds herself involved in a deadly car crash that leaves her with traumatic brain injuries. As a result, the left side of her body and brain are completely erased; gone. We also join her in her journey to readjust to a world where she only sees the world from the right-side view. The emotions are overwhelming in this one and we feel the frustration, pain, and devastation as if it were our own.
Love Anthony: The story of how an unexpected friendship can change lives. Olivia recently lost her 8 year old son, Anthony, to Autism and is going through a divorce with his father when she moves to Nantucket to make sense of it all. It is the beach where she meets Beth, a stay at home mom and recently separated due to her husband’s infidelity. In this new bond and friendship, Beth finds herself channeling an unknown inner voice and we explore the possibility: could it be Anthony’s? What is it he is trying to communicate to Olivia? What are the words he can say now that he was never able to speak due to his Autism? A tug at the heart string as we set ourselves in a world of Autism.
Inside The O’Briens: Joe, a 44 year old police officer, husband and father finds himself experiencing segments of disorientation, uncharacteristic outbursts and strange body movements that don’t feel like his own. A diagnosis from his neurologist confirms Huntington’s Disease, a lethal neurological disease with no treatment and no cure. The real kicker, his 4 children have a 50% chance of inheriting this disease. Not only are they struggling with the news of their father’s diagnosis, but struggling to decide if they want to get tested and learn if their possible future mirrors their father’s diagnosis. A disease I didn’t know much about, this book was a learning experience to understand those living with this disease and how it can impact the entire family.
Alriiiight alright (cue Matthew McConaughey). Time for the point of this post! Every Note Played did not disappoint. If I could compare it to any of the above books in terms of emotionally connecting with the characters, I would say it best fits with Still Alice. Richard is a world famous concert pianist and travels across the world playing at some of the most famous venues where he specializes in classical music from some of the greatest: Bach, Schumann, Chopin, etc. His now ex-wife Karina, whom he met while both attending Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, gave up her dream of also becoming a world famous concert pianist to move to Boston so Richard could pursue his career that left her raising their child and teaching uninterested teenagers piano lessons. The divorce was ugly and we learn right away that there were hurtful secrets and betrayals that occurred, one of them being Richard’s infidelity. We get an inkling that Karina also has a past of her own, but we do not learn this until the very end. I will not spoil it for you!
While Karina resides in a suburb of Boston as her only daughter Grace is off to college, it’s inevitable that she and Richard still have mutual friends. It is through these mutual friends that Karina learns the devastating news: Richard has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and what Stephen Hawking recently passed away from. Richard ignored the symptoms for months, as it started with numbness in his fingers and a disconnect between his body and the piano keys, something he never felt before. After one of his hands started losing feeling and failing to play the notes he needed it to, he decided to visit his doctor where he learned of his diagnosis. Like a lot of us, the only thing he knew about ALS was the Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral a few years ago and that Stephen Hawking had it but managed it from a wheelchair. To Richard, he thought he might only experience some occasional tingles in his limbs and could still carry on with his life of playing the piano for 18 hours a day and traveling the world on his concert tour. His life was about to change and he was completely oblivious to it.
Richard, living life as a Bachelor sharing his true feelings and love for only his piano, lives alone and has no idea the impact this disease is about to have on his daily life. His symptoms seem to progress as each day passes and eventually cause him to cancel his tour. He faces the grim reality that his days of piano playing around the world and being adored by dedicated and loyal fans are soon over. First it’s his right arm that goes, hanging lifelessly from his body. OK, still have my left arm, he thinks. Soon that goes too and he’s forced to hire home health aides to assist in tasks a 40-50 something year old man should be able to do himself. It is during an incident where Richard finds himself alone and locked out of his apartment with no use of his hands and a desparate need to use the bathroom after his recent dose of a laxative. Instead of voice-calling his home healthcare facility from the iPhone hanging from a lanyard around his neck, technology picked up his failing voice and translated it to instead call Karina.
Cleaning the mess that has occurred after this incident, it is then that Karina realizes when Richard isn’t with his home health aides for 4 hours a day, he is sitting lifelessly alone in his apartment. It was apparent that Richard’s body was failing very quickly. For reasons unknown to her, she gets Richard to agree to move back to their house in the suburbs where he has a medical bed set up in the office off the living room, a medical chair prepared for when his legs give, and Karina as his full-time care giver. It is not ideal for either party involved, but with Richard’s estranged family hundreds of miles away and no one except his aides to care for him a few hours a day, there wasn’t much of a choice.
Once again, we take a journey with Richard and Karina as they must give up their separate lives and adjust to living together again under such grim circumstances. Richard’s health fails every day and his independence is soon dwindling down to nothing. He is embarrassed and ashamed to have to rely on Karina and to be cared for so personally and intimately by a woman whom hated him just months prior. What stung the most was his total inability to lift his hands to stroke his beloved piano keys or the inability to play a 2 hour-long performance in front of thousands of people who adored his music,
As Richard declined to the point that his existence relied on the use of machines, Richard (and Karina) were faced with a life-altering and emotional decision. One that physically hurt my heart as I went through this decision with them, as if I was sitting right there in that hospital room. We walk beside the two of them as they discover, through the unfortunate ALS diagnosis, where things went wrong in their marriage. As Richard’s voice was eventually taken by the disease, we learn of the things he never had the chance to say to Karina that he wished he would have years ago.
A true work of art that opens our eyes to the unknown and dreadful world of ALS, Every Note Played teaches us what it means to love selflessly and forgive fearlessly. And that we can find peace in the dark trenches of this often unfair world.
*also cried like a baby. Seems to be a reoccurring theme each book…