Saturday, September 26, 2015

Inside the O'Briens - a novel by Lisa Genova ~ Book Review

  • Joe O'Brien is a career Boston PD Police Officer hailing from the Irish side of town.  He loves his wife Rosie and his four grown children and his identity is totally wrapped around being a good police officer and a proud husband and father.  In his 40's Joe is working towards his 25th year on the force and eventually the full retirement package in his 50's where he and Rosie can enjoy retirement together.  But when he starts to experience bouts of raging temper, dropping items, some involuntary movements and has difficulty writing out his reports at work Rosie talks the doctor avoiding Joe into getting checked by a doctor.  He finds himself seeing a neurologist and then being handed the horrible diagnosis of Huntington's disease.  As his family grapples with the hereditary significance of the disease Joe also has to face that his mother did not indeed die a drunk in a nursing home as he was told but that she had this horrible disease.  And now all those things that scared him about her he will be going through.  He also must face losing everything that defines, in his eyes, who he is.
After reading Still Alice (reviewed here) and learning so much about Alzheimer's disease, I was eager to read another of this author's novels.  I basically knew nothing about Huntington's disease before reading this book and I knew, again, that I would learn from it because of author's first hand knowledge of neuroscience (she has a degree from Harvard).  Huntington's Disease is a horrible hereditary neurological monster. It is passed on through families and if a parent has the disease, the children have a 50/50 chance of getting it.  Symptoms usually start in the 30's or 40's and progress over the next 10 -20 years until death.  It affects voluntary movements, walking, speech, temper and people not in the know assume the person is drunk.  It eventually makes it so that the victim is bedridden, unable to care for themselves and will affect swallowing and eating.  In the 90's a blood test was developed that reveals whether you have the gene pattern that will have Huntingtons in your future.  If you are tested positive, you will have the disease 100%.  There is no treatment and no cure.

This story really spelled out what the person and family that has Huntington's running in their family line deals with.  It is devastating.  My heart was torn for the O'Brien family as they each come to grips with it and each sibling must decide whether to have the test and know for sure before they start to develop symptoms.  As Joe is stripped of everything that is him...his health, his strength, his badge, his pride and even what him and Rosie have to face to provide for Rosie after his death is shocking and sad.  And then he has to deal with the guilt.  Guilt that he passed this onto his kids unknowingly, guilt of how treated his own mother even though he was mislead in what he was told was wrong with her.   As he fought within himself on how he wanted to deal with the disease and whether he had the courage to live it out before his family, the story really broke my heart.   As each adult child wrestled with whether to take the test and know for sure whether they had the disease, I felt myself  asking what I would do.  Would I be able to dig deep and find the courage to live a life of hope  in the midst of an essentially hopeless diagnosis.  The author really drew me into each and every character within the story as she described what they were battling inwardly.

This author is extremely adept in bringing to light what it is like to be diagnosed and to live with these devastating diseases from both the victim's standpoint and also the family's and to give the reader knowledge and compassion.  Both of the books I have read by her have really done that in my heart.  I recommend her novels for that very reason.  Because they are fiction they teach without the dryness of textbooks and draw out your compassion for what the people with these diseases face in their everyday.  They really knock out a lot of my assumptions.  That being said I must say that this particular story just about didn't get finished by myself.  The proliferation of f-bombs right from the first pages of the book had me wanting to put it aside from about page 5.  They are over the top plentiful as are other swears.  I usually don't bother with a novel that relies on that amount of swearing.  But because I knew I would learn from the story I pressed on.  But in reality by the end of the book I was so done with it because of the language.  It really did make it hard for me to press through.

I give this a 9/10 for writing of the devastation and feelings of facing this disease and the knowledge and compassion it brings out of the reader but took a point away for the crazy amount of f-bombs that I had to struggle through.

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere I've always wanted to visit (Boston); A book that made me cry; A book published this year; A book by a female author; A book a friend recommended; A book that scares me.

Linked with Saturday Review of Books 


Deb said...

I had heard about this book and was wondering about it, so I am sure glad you did a review. I will check for it next time I am at the library. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Faith said...

I loved this book too and it's very unusual for her to have that much "gutter talk". I really think it is because she wanted to create that tough persona for the character, you know? I can deal with the F word better than when author's take our Savior's and Heavenly Father's name and misuse it. THAT is swearing and is NOT good.

Susanne said...

Faith: I totally agree with you about taking the Lord's name in vain and I would have put the book down with no hesitation whatsoever had that have been the case. I just think sometimes authors turn to the proliferation of f-bombs as an easy out in creating a tough persona. I've read lots of books where I totally got that the character was a tough, crusty detective or cop who had been embittered without the f-bomb being dropped constantly.

Barbara H. said...

Wow - I did not know that about Huntington's disease. How very sad. I think I would find this book interesting except I can't stand f-bombs, especially bunches of them, so I think I'll pass on this one. I agree with your comment above, writers CAN, if they try, portray a tough character without resorting to that kind of language.

Karen said...

I have a hard time reading books with a lot of swearing, and I can't decide if I need to overlook it because that is, in fact, the way a lot of people express themselves and it's part of the story. But then, I tend to avoid being around people that can't express themselves using better language. (Not that I'm a saint all the time, either.)

I think you're so brave for reading this book, because of the subject matter. How frightening for the family and what hard choices to make.