Sunday, January 9, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Sarah Nickerson has it all. An MBA from Harvard Business School. A great job, a great husband who has a great job, three great kids. She and her husband have a beautiful big house in a suburb of Boston, and a vacation house in Vermont. She works eighty hours a week, but is occasionally able to squeeze in attendance at t-ball and soccer games. If she feels overwhelmed from time to time, she shuts her office door and allows herself to cry for five minutes. Maybe Sarah and Bob are overbooked and overextended, with two mortgages and two student loans and very little time for themselves (and each other), but isn't that the price you pay for having it all?

Rushing to work after dropping the kids at school one morning, running late on a day packed with important meetings and conference calls and trying to make up for lost time by answering e-mails and texts as she drives, Sarah loses control of her car. When she comes to she's in the hospital, half her head shaved, and about to discover that she has suffered a traumatic brain injury that's left her with a disorder known as Left Neglect. Unable to perceive the left half of the world, Sarah has to reinvent herself, both physically--learning to look left again, painstakingly developing coping techniques and ways to get around--and as a person. No longer the most capable person in the room, Sarah has to learn to depend on others to help her make her way in the world.

While Sarah's still in the hospital rehabilitation unit, her mother, who checked out of Sarah's life after her younger brother died in an accident when Sarah was still a child, checks back in. Resentful at having to depend on the mother who was incapable of ushering her from childhood through adolescence and on into adulthood, Sarah balks. Undaunted, her mother stays, helping Bob keep it together, taking care of the household, ferrying the kids back and forth to school and activities, and ultimately taking over Sarah's rehabilitation.

There is a tearful, late-in-the-game reconciliation.

Synopsized thusly, Left Neglected, the second novel by Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, sounds suspiciously like a movie of the week. And it often veers unnervingly close to being a typical melodrama about redemption through overcoming a handicap. But Genova's unflinching eye and the deft first person narration (laced liberally throughout with self-deprecating humor) saves the novel from this fate. Left Neglected is certainly ripe for the book club circuit, packed as it is with mother-daughter issues, questions about when just enough becomes too much, and--of course--the delicious theme of adversity overcome. And yes, this reader did, indeed, cry with satisfaction at the end. But don't let these things deter you, as Left Neglected is so much more. It is nicely written and thought provoking. Lisa Genova obviously knows her neurological disorders, and her insight into this condition (which, a note at the end, tells us is also known as unilateral neglect or hemispatial neglect) is absolutely fascinating, and not a little chilling.

Disclosure: In accordance with new FTC guidelines for bloggers I must let you know that I received a free review copy of this title.  My reviews are just that: reviews.  They are not endorsements, nor am I ever compensated for posting my opinion.  I am, however, an Amazon affiliate, which means that if you make a purchase from Amazon after clicking through a link on my site--even if you don't buy a title to which I've linked!--I will receive a small commission.


3 comments:

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EnriqueFreeque said...

I like that you were able to notice that subtle, sometimes hard to see nuance between cartoony melodrama and bona fide narrative craftsmanship. Not an easy line to delineate always. I'm impressed.

(over)spent $71 and change at Borders today. And not just buying books to buy books: excellent, truly excellent stuff. Worth every penny. Lady at the counter played down the doom and gloom, "Oh," she said, "those are just rumours, there's always rumours floating about".

Rebecca Glenn said...

Thank you! I do, of course, dearly love a melodrama. But it's even better when the writing is good and the intelligence level is high.

So, what did we buy today?...I'm going to swing over to LT and see what you added. I tried to hit the Salvation Army today but--duh--they're a good Christian organization and not open on Sunday. So I went to OSH and bought some pots to repot a few succulents, instead.

B.

PS When customers ask me about the big question looming in everyone's mind, I demure as well.