Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
2012 Gallery Books
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)
Available September 25th
With more than one million copies of her New York Times bestselling novels in print, Lisa Genova has captured a unique place in contemporary literary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit.
Olivia Donatelli’s dream of a “normal” life shattered when her son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Understanding the world from his perspective felt bewildering, nearly impossible. He didn’t speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. And just as Olivia was starting to realize that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died.
Now she’s alone in a cottage on Nantucket, separated from her husband, desperate to understand the meaning of her son’s short life, when a chance encounter with another woman facing irreparable loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way. In a piercing story about motherhood, autism, and love, Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change who discover the small but exuberant voice that helps them both find the answers they need.
Next Tuesday, Lisa Genova’s third novel, Love Anthony, will hit the shelves in bookstores across the country. Fans of her immensely popular Still Alice and Left Neglected are in for another remarkable story. I was fortunate to receive a copy of Love Anthony early this summer, but resisted the temptation to drop what I was reading and begin Genova’s latest book. Choosing to postpone reading until I could do so without interruption or distraction, I held off until after my granddaughter’s visit and the completion of my current read. I also decided to wait until closer to the release date, so my impressions would be fresh in my mind when it came time to compose this review. That shouldn’t have been a concern, as this novel, about a mother’s love and heartbreak for her autistic son, is one I won’t forget for a long time.
It is always with great trepidation that I begin a new novel by a beloved author. On one hand, I am excited to return to a favorite author’s style and prose, knowing her previous works have been among some of the best books I’ve ever read. On the other hand, I’m nervous and a tiny bit concerned that the new book won’t live up to its predecessors and I’ll be forced to write a less-than-glowing review. Unlike recent disappointments by a couple of my favorite authors, I can assure you that this is not the case for Lisa Genova’s new novel, Love Anthony. Once again, Genova, a neuroscientist (with a doctorate from Harvard), educates her readers about another brain condition, much as she did with Still Alice (Alzheimer’s) and Left Neglected (Hemispatial neglect, aka “left neglect” syndrome). Other than what I’ve seen in the news or a reference here or there in article I might have read, I basically know nothing specific about autism. Nobody in my family is autistic and none of my friends have an autistic child, so it was enlightening to read Genova’s story, knowing that the descriptions and details of Anthony’s condition would be based on her professional knowledge in the study of the brain.
As with most exceptional books I read, I have many pages marked with Post-It flags. I don’t wish to spoil the narrative, so I’ll limit my examples to just a few.
Applied-behavioral-analysis therapy, speech therapy, Floortime, sensory integration, metal chelation, gluten-free diets, casein-free diets, B12 shots. Pediatricians, neurologists, gastroenterologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, energy healers. From the mainstream to the alternative to the practically voodoo, Olivia doesn’t remember much of any of it being covered by their health insurance. David worked more and more hours. They refinanced the houses. They emptied their IRA nest eggs. Because how could they retire with money in the bank and a son with autism, knowing that there was a therapy out there that might’ve helped him but they didn’t try because it was too expensive.
On communication (or lack thereof):
My life right now is all about communication, or rather, the lack of it. I spend all my waking hours demanding communication from Anthony. Anthony, say JUICE. JUICE. JUUUUICE. Say the word. Tell me what you want. Say I WANT JUICE. Say SWING. Say I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE AND SWING ON THE SWING. Please. Look at me, Anthony, and tell me what you want. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me why you’re screaming. I can usually tell if it’s happy-excited screaming or frustrated-panicked screaming, but right now, I’m too tired, and I can’t figure it out. Why are you screaming? How can I help you if you won’t tell me what you want?
I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming challenge of raising a child with autism, but through Genova’s prose, I not only see that life through a mother’s eyes, but I get a glimpse through the child’s eyes, as well. Genova masterfully depicts the thoughts and impressions of Anthony, capturing his “voice” with such credibility that, like Still Alice, I had to remind myself that the book is a work of fiction.
I’m always hearing about how my brain doesn’t work right. They say my brain is broken. My mother cries about my broken brain, and she and my father fight about my broken brain, and people come to my house every day to try to fix my broken brain. But it doesn’t feel broken to me. I think they’re wrong about my brain.
It doesn’t feel like my knee when I fall outside in the driveway and break the skin, and the broken skin bleeds and hurts and sometimes turns pink and white or blue and purple. When I fall and break my skin, it hurts and I cry, and my mother sticks a Barney Band-Aid on my broken skin. Sometimes the Barney Band-Aid loses its sticky in the tub and comes off, and the skin is still pink and broken, and I’ll get another Barney Band-Aid. But after a few tubs, the Barney Band-Aid will come off, and the broken skin will be fixed.
My brain doesn’t hurt, and my brain doesn’t bleed. My brain doesn’t need a Barney Band-Aid.
My brain is made up of different rooms. Each room is doing a different thing. For example, I have an Eyes Room for seeing thing and an Ears Room for hearing things. I have a Hands Room, a Memory Room (it’s like my father’s office, full of drawers and folders and boxes with papers), a New Things Room, a Numbers Room (my favorite), and a Horror Room (I wish this room would be broken, but it works just fine).
The rooms don’t touch each other. There are long, looping hallways in between each room. If I’m thinking about something that happened yesterday (like when I knocked over the white coffee mug), I’m in my Memory Room. But if I want to watch a Barney video on the TV, I have to leave the Memory Room and go into Eyes and sometimes Ears.
Sometimes when I’m in the hallways traveling to a different room, I get lost and confused and caught In Between and feel like I’m nowhere. This is when my brain feels like maybe it’s a little broken, but I know I just have to find my way into one of the rooms and shut the door.
But if too much is happening at once, I can get into trouble. If I’m counting the square tiles on the kitchen floor (180), I’m in my Numbers Room, but if my mother starts talking to me, I have to go into my Ears Room to hear her. But I want to stay in Numbers because I’m counting, and I like to count, but my mother keeps talking, and her sound is getting louder, and I feel pressure to leave Numbers and go inside my Ears Room. So I go into the hallway, but then she grabs my hand, and this surprises me and forces me into Hands, which isn’t where I wanted to go, and she’s talking to me but I can’t hear what she’s saying because I’m in my Hands Room and not in Ears.
The sound of my own voice screaming is the only thing that can rid of everything else.
My voice makes screams and sounds but not words. But this isn’t a broken room inside my brain. I talk to myself with words inside my brain just fine. I think I might have broken lips or a broken tongue or a broken throat. I wish I could tell my mother and father that my voice is broken but my brain is working, but I can’t tell them because my voice is broken. I wish they’d figure it out on their own.
Not since Emma Donoghue’s “Jack” (Room) have I encountered a child’s voice so utterly genuine and heartbreakingly tender. Not only does the author put a face on autism, she shows her readers how “normal” an autistic child feels, in spite of his limitations.
Final Thoughts: Genova has written another winner! I loved her compassion for both women, but mostly I loved Anthony. While some readers may have trouble with the (perhaps literally) incredible coincidences that occur in this novel, I was willing and able to suspend my disbelief, not only appreciating Genova’s intelligent depiction of a child with autism, but also the love between family and friends. And now, once again, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next time around! Kudos, Lisa! I loved it.
Go here for my review for Still Alice and here for Left Neglected.
Go here to learn more about Autism.