Inside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova

  • Inside the O'Briens (Apr7)Title:  Inside the O’Briens: A Novel
  • Author:  Lisa Genova
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  April 2015 – Gallery Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.  (from the publisher’s synopsis)

My take:   Inside the O’Briens is the third of Lisa Genova’s four novels I’ve read. Each has a medical condition as its focus. With Inside the O’Briens she addresses Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurological condition that has no cure.

The O’Briens are an Irish Catholic family who all live in a triple-decker in Charlestown, MA. Joe and his wife Rosie are parents to 4 adult children in their twenties (2 boys and 2 girls) and a daughter-in-law. Joe begins exhibiting symptoms that soon result in a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease (HD). When he and Rosie break the news to the kids they have to explain that each of them has a 50/50 chance of being gene positive, meaning, if positive, they will get HD in ten to twenty years.

Genova’s excellent story-telling skills shine as she takes the reader inside the minds of the main characters. There were times I had to stop reading because the emotions I was feeling were so intense. And then I’d spend a lot of time just thinking about what I would do in their situation. I learned a lot about HD, the genetics involved in a diagnosis, and much more regarding therapy and other treatments for symptoms of the disease.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to fans of the author and contemporary fiction with a medical focus. It would be a great selection for book groups.

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova (audiobook)

Title:  Love Anthony

Author:  Lisa Genova

Narrator:  Debra Messing

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Published:  September 2012 – Simon & Schuster Audio

8 cds – approximately 9 hours

Synopsis:  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 her own loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way.

Beth Ellis’s entire life changed with a simple note: “I’m sleeping with Jimmy.” Fourteen years of marriage. Three beautiful daughters. She had never felt so alone. Heartbroken, she finds the pieces of the vivacious, creative person she used to be packed away in a box in her attic. For the first time in years, she uncaps her pen, takes a deep breath, and begins to write. The young but exuberant voice that emerges onto the page is a balm to the turmoil within her, a new beginning, and an astonishing bridge back to herself.

In a piercing story about motherhood, autism, and love, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change and the irrepressible young boy whose unique wisdom helps them both find the courage to move on.

My take:  My first experience with Lisa Genova’s books was Still Alice. Genova took the reader into the life of a woman diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In Love Anthony the main character is Olivia whose son (on the autism spectrum) has passed away. She feels incredible guilt for various reasons – not the least of which is how her son died.

Love Anthony is also about another woman – Beth. Her life has done a 180 and she’s working through how to go forward. Genova connects the two woman in an intriguing way. They help each other discover that unconditional love is not a one way street and forgiveness may be part of healing.

I liked how Genova’s story wrapped up – maybe not with a beautiful bow but tied up nicely just the same. I appreciated the author’s comments about autism at the end of the book. Recommended.

Debra Messing’s performance was good. Her voice was easy to listen to and I thought she voiced the characters adequately.

Disclosure:  I received a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox. I was not compensated for my review.