“Everything on the highway is still. Everything but me. I’m going 70 mph”
Sarah is what has become known as a super-mum: high-flying career woman working a standard 80 hour week, mother to 3, with an equally hard-working husband. She tries to get home for dinner with the kids every night but never makes it to her son’s football games. One day, driving to work, she looks at her mobile phone rather than the road, and is a victim of the predictably ensuing road accident. Waking up in hospital, she is fortunate not to have many broken bones, but her brain has been permanently changed – she has Left Neglect, a condition in which her brain fills in the left side of everything as if there is a blind spot there, meaning she can’t see anything unusual on her left. Nor can she properly control her left hand or left leg.
I’m still not sure about this fictional exploration of brain damage – in a sense, this reads like a survivor’s memoir, and knowing that it is fictional leaves one with a sense of deception. On the other hand, using fiction gives Genova the opportunity to condemn the 200%-lifestyle that leads Sarah to the accident, and to have her experience a re-evaluation of life and recognise the need to downsize.
All of the characters are entirely realistic – just reading about Sarah’s job made me nervous as I thought about 60 emails coming in overnight (I usually only have 5!); her husband is wonderfully supportive but the conflict of a potential job loss, and Sarah’s eventual challenge of him working so hard when the office is closed provides some much needed darkness to a very warm character. The kids are difficult, and the sub-plot about Charlie’s schooling was a very interesting one – to have Charlie and Sarah doing their homework together was touching. As for Sarah’s mother, who is a real piece of work…
The writing was a little disappointing – judging from Jodi Picoult’s rave quote on the front cover, I expected it to be similar to Picoult but I found the standard to be a little lower, and just below my snob threshold. I appreciated the single voice for the duration, rather than the recent fashion for switching narrator perspectives, but the incessant and unvaried present tense was a bit much for me.
I’ll be looking out for Genova’s first book, Still Alice, and would recommend this as reading to anyone interested in brain injury. Just don’t expect high literature.