Alice Howland is a professor of psychology at Harvard specializing in the mechanisms of language and cognition. She is young, accomplished, and extremely intelligent. And she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Still Alice is the story of her agonizing decline, from the simple forgetting of a word during a routine lecture to her inability to recognize her youngest daughter.
Soon after her diagnosis, Alice takes a seat in a lecture hall at Harvard, waiting for the lecturer to arrive. After a lengthy wait with no sign of the speaker, Alice loses patience and walks out, leaving a class full of confused students behind. Unbeknownst to her degenerating brain, she was the lecturer that everybody was waiting for. Alice’s calm and intelligent narrative makes it easy to forget that she is declining mentally, and I found myself burning with discomfort when I realized her mistake.
Throughout the book, Alice is forced to painfully prioritize the things in her life that she wants to accomplish before she is no longer capable of meaningful accomplishment. As her disease progresses and she becomes a spectator in her own life, her relationships begin to dissolve when others take a pragmatic, insensitive approach to coping with her disease, oftentimes forgetting that she is a person, not a disorder. Still Alice sheds light on the fact that neurodegenerative disorders are still widely misunderstood and stigmatized, and that victims are often further victimized by societal insensitivity and fear.
Still Alice incorporates enough factual information about Alzheimer’s disease to bring life and believability to the story without suffocating it in scientific terminology. It is an unforgettable read that won’t be easy to put down.
- Laura Martin