Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I know. Three stars. Before I get into the meat of the book, let me explain because Lisa Genova is one of my very favorite authors. I've always enjoyed her eloquent, intelligent writing. The woman is brilliant and gifted in both the medical field and creative writing. So my real issue with the book was the language. I was distracted by the sheer number of F bombs. It cheapened the eloquent writing style I've come to expect. I buy into the idea that the use of profanity demonstrates a lack of vocabulary. Lisa Genova does not lack vocabulary. But the book is not written from her own POV. The protagonists are blue collar Bostonians - Irish American. So I get it. I get that the characters were rough around the edges. Joe is a veteran cop. That's how he talks and that's how he thinks. I'm just saying that it was distracting, particularly from an author I've loved. That said, had I known ahead of time, I still would have read the book.
The story is a raw, real look at Huntington's Disease, a genetic anomaly in the DNA that is not a respecter of persons. The book begins with Joe, a Boston cop, in his mid thirties, he demonstrate an inkling of the disease. The reader moves from Joe as he progresses in the disease, becoming more clumsy, exhibiting chorea, getting stuck in thinking errors to Katie, his daughter as she becomes paralyzed with fear of the disease. Who has it? There are 4 grown children in various stages of life. Each child has a 50% shot at carrying the gene. If you carry the gene, you develop the disease eventually. Do you get the genetic testing and find out?
Everything about Genova's story is grittingly raw and real. I have a friend who was dating a man when the genetic sequence was identified and subsequently offered to relatives of identified sufferers of Huntington Disease. I didn't know at the time why he put their relationship into a screeching halt for weeks. I didn't know the drama that was playing out in their families until later. His mother was at the point that she could no longer care for her husband and put him into assisted care. His sister, a woman I met a year earlier, was a mother of five children ranging from 11 to 2 years old. She was showing signs of the disease. She chose to be tested. She was HD positive. At the time, the children could also be tested. Yet if they tested positive, would the diagnosis preclude them from quality health insurance? Pre-existing conditions were always the loophole insurance companies used at the time. The mother of the young children deteriorated quickly and her care was pushing the young father to the brink of bankruptcy.
So basically, I read the book but I caught a preview 20 years in advance. I can't tell you what happened to the real people I described in the previous paragraph because, minus the F bombs and the geography, this book tells their story. Those who carry the gene develop the disease and it is horrible. Those who don't carry the gene never get it and don't pass it on to the next generation but they care for their loved ones and suffer with them.
So it all sounds pretty hopeless and a real downer yet I must remind you that this is an author who somehow instills hope and love of life into her characters. The book is an excellent educational vehicle for Huntington's Disease but it also provides they greatest gift an author can give. Hope.