What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2011.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sleep Neglected

I awoke last night to the wondrous sounds of nature: a fox capturing its midnight feast. Grabbing a book from my library bag, I came upon "Left Neglected", Lisa Genova's most recent novel. So much for getting back to sleep...

Her debut novel, "Still Alice", captivated me with the detail of emotions that Alice felt as Alzheimer's took over her brain. In her second book to focus on a neurological problem (Genova, herself, has a PhD in Neuroscience), Sarah is a stereotypical high-powered business executive in her late 30s who is caught up in the craze of breaking through the glass ceiling while parenting three young children with her equally career-and-status focused husband. The couple squeeze all they can out of each waking moment, multi-tasking to the nth degree to send one more email, close one more deal, and complete one more project. This all comes to a terrifying halt when Sarah suffers a brain injury in an entirely preventable car accident, resulting in a condition called Left Neglect where she has no recognition of the left side of her body. Sarah's brain doesn't recognize the left of anything, making it difficult to read, dress, eat, track action in a room-- most every simple action is a challenge.

As a scientist, Genova provides very precise examples of this very real medical condition. As a writer, her descriptions make you ache for Sarah as she struggles to make progress with her rehabilitation. For me, Sarah was not a likable character in the beginning. Her choices in how she raised her children, especially with her son who is experiencing his own difficulties, made it hard for me to care whether she was good at her job or that she tried to make it home for a soccer game (to be fair, I felt the same way about her husband, Bob). It's sad that it required a traumatic brain injury for Sarah and Bob to question the direction and path of their lives.

Without revealing too many facts, it's Sarah's mother who most captured me. Sarah's adult life is very much defined by a horrible event that happened to her family when she was a small child, after which her mother spiraled into a terrible depression. Her mother returns to help with the aftermath of Sarah's own devastating accident, and it's the evolution of this relationship that most interested me of all the other storylines.

(Brendan, we need to talk about awarding points for books in which tragic things happen to young children. And, seriously, are you stockpiling posts again? Some would say you're eerily silent.)

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