INSIDE THE O’BRIENS
Author: Lisa Genova
Publication Date: April 2015
Genre: Fiction, Drama
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
* I received an ARC of ‘Inside The O’Briens’ from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Joe O’Brien is a Boston police officer. He is also a father and a husband who loves his wife and family. Joe is a typical Catholic Irish cop. He loves his job. He loves his city. And he loves his family most of all.
Joe’s family is not rich. He is a typical blue-collar worker and he takes pride in the fact that he helps to keep the people of Boston safe. He has twelve years left on the job and then he can retire. He looks forward to grandchildren and to spending time with them once he retires.
However, despite having plans for the future that do not include medical problems, at the age of forty-four he starts to exhibit strange behavior and weird symptoms. He has always been a calm and thoughtful man, but he begins to have outbursts of temper and he is disorganized and forgetful which is very unlike him. When he starts to also experience unusual and involuntary bodily movements he finally agrees to see a doctor. He agrees to see the doctor more to appease his wife than out of any real sense of alarm.
When he sees the doctor, she orders blood tests and an MRI of his skull. His diagnosis is grim. He is told that he has Huntington’s disease and that it will eventually kill him.
Huntington’s disease has no cure and no treatment. It is a neurodegenerative disease that is not only lethal but it can be passed on to his children. In fact, Joe more than likely inherited it from his mother even though everyone always said that she drank herself to death. Joe realizes that she actually died of Huntington’s Disease.
Joe has four grown up children living in the family home, between the ages of 21 and 25, who are devastated by their father’s diagnosis and equally devastated by the fact that they have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the gene that causes Huntington’s disease.
Joe’s youngest child is his twenty-one year old daughter Katie. Katie knows that it is possible to find out if she has the gene just by having a simple blood test. But, does she want to know? Is it worse to know what the future holds or is the uncertainty of not knowing even worse?
Not only do Katie and her siblings have to struggle with their own internal battles, but they have to watch their father begin to disappear before their eyes. Are they watching their own futures unfold at the same time?
I cannot imagine the agony of knowing that you have a 50% chance of having a fatal disease. I’m not sure what I would do in the situation that the O’Brien siblings find themselves in. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding whether or not you carry the HD gene. Lisa Genova has done an incredible job of describing their struggles, both internal and external.
And, what about Joe? As his symptoms worsen and he is forced to leave the career he loves, how does he hold it all together? Can he be strong for his family? Or will he give in to despair?
Lisa Genova’s background as a neuroscientist shows once again in her writing, just as it has in previous books including “Still Alice” and “Left Neglected” which are exceptionally well written and heart wrenching books.
Joe O’Brien comes across as the perfect ‘every-man’. When his symptoms first start he shakes them off as the normal effects of getting older. This is exactly what most people would do. None of us know how aging will affect us until it happens. Small events that may seem significant in hindsight will be easily brushed aside and even laughed-off at the time they occur. If Joe had immediately rushed to the doctor, this book would be much less believable.
Joe’s children range in age from twenty one to twenty five and as a parent of a sixteen year old and a twenty year old I can relate to the anguish he feels. I cannot fathom how difficult it would be to know that it was my genes that could be the cause of a fatal disease being launched in my children’s bodies. It is one thing to deal with personal sickness and even your own demise, it is another to know your kids might suffer the same fate. Lisa Genova captures these feelings of helplessness with surprising eloquence. When Joe talks about not having hope for himself but that he would climb a “mountain” of hope for his kids I could almost literally feel his pain and his hopefulness.
Lisa Genova has a gift for writing dramatic, intelligent and relevant fiction. She not only entertains people with her books, she also educates and enlightens.
This book could easily have been depressing. Readers know from Joe’s diagnosis that he will eventually die from HD, but this story is not just about a disease. It is also a story of love, family and what it means to be human. It is full of love, duty, anger, romance, dedication, friendship, despair, hope and everything in between.
Eloquence thy name is Lisa Genova.
If a rating of 6 out of 5 were possible that is how I would rate this book. As it is I will have to settle for rating it 5 out of 5 stars. However I will warn you that this book is an emotional read. Readers should have a box of tissues beside them throughout this novel. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
To learn more about Huntington’s disease visit http://www.huntingtonsociety.ca
To learn more about Lisa Genova and her other books go to http://www.lisagenova.com