She looked at the rows of books and periodicals on her bookcase, the stack of final exams to be corrected on her desk, the emails in her inbox, the red, flashing voice-mail light on her phone. She thought about the books she’d always wanted to read, the ones adorning the top shelf in her bedroom, the ones she figured she’d have time for later. Moby-Dick. She had experiments to perform, papers to write, and lectures to give and attend. Everything she did and loved, everything she was, required language. (p. 73-74)
Still reeling from just finishing Still Alice, a novel more frightening than anything Stephen King could conjure up, and he’s pretty darn scary.
But nothing imagined is more terrifying than what’s real, and the idea of losing one’s memory, and along with it one’s very self, is beyond horrific.
The character, Alice, is six months older than I. She’s taught for twenty six years, as have I, only she’s a professor of linguistic studies at Harvard. She gives international speeches, she guides post-doctoral studies, and she’s forgetting things.
While running during her daily routine she completely forgets where she is. When introduced to a woman at a party, she promptly asks who she is after returning to the group with a glass of wine. Who she is, and where she belongs, is becoming more and more confusing, but it isn’t due to the typical symptoms of menopause. Or, stress. She is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease.
“Okay, Alice, can you spell the word water backwards for me?” he asked.
She would have found this question trivial and even insulting six months ago, but today, it was a serious question to be tackled with serious effort. She felt only marginally worried and humiliated by this, not nearly as worried and humiliated as she would’ve felt six months ago. More and more, she was experiencing a growing distance from her self-awareness. Her sense of Alice-what she knew and understood, what she liked and disliked, how she felt and perceived-was also like a soap bubble, ever higher in the sky and more difficult to identify, with nothing but the thinnest lipid membrane protecting it from popping into thinner air. (p. 242)
The novel focuses on the effects it has on her, but also on her husband and children. The family must learn how to cope with the needs that Alice has and the new person she’s become. It is a heartbreaking, yet ultimately endearing, journey for all of us to witness.