I recently finished Lisa’s Genova’s fourth novel “Inside the O’Briens” which is about Huntington’s Disease (HD) and I was reminded of how much I like and admire her work. Recall her first book, “Still Alice” which was about a young woman who learns she has early onset Alzheimers. This self published book was a bestseller and went on to be a major movie starring Julianne Moore.
Her latest book, “Inside the O’Briens” is the fictional tale of Joe O’Brien, a Boston cop and father of four who learns he has HD. Lisa narrates from Joe’s perspective to give us the up close and personal view of what it would be like to experience this first hand. She also narrates some portions of the book from his youngest daughter, Katie’s, perspective.
Some background on HD: it is a genetically transmitted, fatal, neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by uncontrollable movements that make people appear to be drunk or on drugs. It has been called “the cruelest disease known to man” because it does not have a cure and if you have it, there is a 50% chance of it being passed on to your children. Thankfully, it is rare, only 30,000 people in the US are known to have the disease.
When Joe is narrating we can see how confusing this diagnosis feels. He understands that he has HD but fights it hard. He keeps the diagnosis private, and continues to push his body by doing things he didn’t even do before he found out he had HD. For example, he starts running the stairs like a boxer in his local park and knocks down a wall in his house for a kitchen remodel.
When Katie is narrating we see confusion but also fear. Now she knows she too has a 50-50 chance of getting this disease. There is a genetic test she can take to find out, but does she really want to know? She watches her father very carefully for signs of the disease’s progression while analyzing every misstep she takes as well. When she trips over her feet she wonders if she is just clumsy or if she is already experiencing the early stages of HD?
Lisa is a Harvard educated neuroscientist who has become well known for her ability to bring awareness about illness through story telling. I also read her second book “Left Neglected” about a woman who has this condition following an auto accident. According to my research she is already working on her fifth book which will be about ALS. I respect her ability to tell a heartfelt story about the people who suffer from these illnesses while at the same time providing education and awareness.