Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Wednesday, January 26, 2011



My head feels strange, but I can't identify the sensation at first. Then it comes to me in full Technicolor, the volume turned all the way up. My head is scorching hot. I let go of the cup of ice and touch my head. I'm stunned and horrified by the mental image drawn by what my fingers feel.

Sarah Nickerson is the career-driven supermom. Every waking minute of her life is structured and planned out. She works a lot of hours each day, has a just-as-career-obsessed husband, and also has three kids, one of whom is having a lot of trouble focusing at school. As she tries to keep her whole life in balance, one slight distraction while driving sends her spiraling into an accident.

If you know the subject matter Lisa Genova writes about, you probably also know that Left Neglected is focused on a brain injury and how the victim adjusts to it. But I hope you didn't go one step further and read about the actual illness covered in this book, because that revelation in my opinion, was the most shocking part of the book. I know it's there in the blurb so it's hard to have missed it. But for some reason, I didn't read the blurb - I just read the book because I absolutely loved Still Alice.

After her accident, Sarah started exhibiting symptoms of her brain damage in the hospital, I was just as confused as her husband, who was watching her, and that was in spite of being in Sarah's head. Lisa Genova really writes this part well - Sarah's confusion, the effect of her injury, her anxiety about work, her frustration at her husband's 'crazy' questions. Because when her doctor reveals what the diagnosis is, it feels very shocking - I had to read back and look for the clues again. Since it is a very rare condition, I found it very hard to visualize life from Sarah's point of view. Just as her husband struggled to understand. In Still Alice, I saw everything from Alice's perspective. In Left Neglected, it's a lot harder. I guess it has to do with the fact that this illness is very rare and has very little supporting research (I googled for it right away).

Let me confess - I didn't enjoy this book. I yawned a lot and kept looking at the page number. You know when that happens, it's not a good sign. It's not that the book was boring, it's more the fact that there was very little moving the book along. Sarah's relationship with her mother is another central element in this book - but I felt this aspect wasn't covered in full. Especially, towards the end, I had a few questions about something we never find out. At least, I hope I didn't miss it.

For the most part, this book just didn't pull me in. Apart from the big revelation, the rest of the book felt very detached, like watching a documentary, but without the documentary's intrigue. There were plenty of moments I expected something to happen, but then the build-up just wanes. I thought that the dialogue in the book was a little on the excessive side - most of it was necessary so that the reader didn't lag behind, but at the same time, I couldn't help think that it felt contrived.

In addition, Sarah was very selfish and stubborn. I'd expect her to be both after the accident takes away her high-flying career. But I found her thoughts very inconsistent for the most part. This is really hard for me to say - Other than during the first few days after she wakes up, when she's bound to be manic, depressive, anything in between, angry, confused, during the days following the injury, she seemed to take the injury far easier than I would expect her to. (There - I said what I struggled to say. I'm battling with my other self that tells me I'm no judge on how people should react to their injuries. And my other self is right, of course. But as a reader, if you go through judging someone or expecting certain actions or reactions based on reading a book so far, you would know what I mean.)

I know I shouldn't compare this with Still Alice, but I think I will end up doing it anyways. Although both stories are told from the perspective of the person with the brain condition, my reaction to both was different. In Still Alice, I stayed inside Alice's head and saw everyone as outsiders. In Left Neglected, I felt that I was mostly on the outside looking in - so I connected with the others more.

I borrowed this book from the library. (Reminds me, it is due back tomorrow.)

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