Sarah and Bob Nickerson appear to have it all: demanding, well-paying careers, three healthy young children, a lovely home in an upscale suburban Boston neighborhood, and a vacation home in Vermont. The price of this lifestyle is mighty steep in terms of time and energy required to maintain it, but they seem willing and able to pay that price --- until a serious car accident lands Sarah in the hospital and renders her virtually helpless. Her handicap is caused by left neglect, resulting from a traumatic brain injury. Her brain no longer recognizes the left side of her body; she can’t see it, use it, or even feel it, and has to focus all her energy --- both mental and physical --- just to be aware that she even has a left side. For an independent, highly motivated Type-A personality like Sarah, this diagnosis and its hazily uncertain prognosis are both devastating and frightening.
"Neuroscientist Lisa Genova has created a masterful follow-up to her highly-acclaimed debut novel, STILL ALICE."
Bob enlists Sarah's mother, Helen, who graciously drops everything to come to Boston and help with the children and the house. Sarah is dismayed that Bob would do such a thing. Sarah and Helen's huge emotional gap has only deepened during the 30 years since Sarah's brother drowned. Then Helen disappeared into her overwhelming grief and neglected her only remaining child. Sarah and her father muddled through as best they could, but she still harbors an intense resentment of Helen. The mother who wasn't there for her all those years when she was needed now steps into the role of caretaker, not only of the children, but of Sarah as well. Sarah has a long way to go before she is rehabilitated enough to even return home.
Life at home is not all rosy, either. Sarah's middle child, Charlie, who is unfocused and unable to pay attention to even the simplest tasks, is doing poorly in school. In time he's diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), put on medication, and given special work to help him focus and learn in his own way. Back at the rehabilitation center, Sarah is having to relearn how to walk, which is plenty difficult to do when your left leg doesn't know it's supposed to be involved in the process. Sarah dislikes her granny cane but can’t manage without it, and isn’t even able to release her grasp on the spoon in her left hand without a tremendous amount of effort. She is determined to overcome her handicap and thinks that with enough hard work she'll soon be able to return to her previous life. None of the medical experts can predict how much she will recover.
When Sarah is finally released from the hospital, she still requires a lot of assistance. She can’t lift the baby to change his diaper or even be left alone in the house. Despite not wanting her there, Sarah does need Helen and has to admit her mother is doing a good job with the children and helping Bob run the household.
Because she has so much unwanted and unstructured free time, Sarah finally begins to slow down, catch her breath, and sort out her priorities, which have changed since or maybe as a result of the accident. Bob is working harder than ever, but the bills are piling up. Their carefully constructed lifestyle, based upon two substantial incomes, is beginning to fray at the edges. Bob's career is unstable, just as Sarah comes to terms with the fact that not only can she not return to her previous job, she would choose not to do so. But the relationship between Helen and Sarah is starting to improve.
Neuroscientist Lisa Genova has created a masterful follow-up to her highly-acclaimed debut novel, STILL ALICE. At times it is difficult for her audience to remember that LEFT NEGLECTED is a work of fiction, a figment of a very creative imagination. Written in the first person, the book reads like a moving memoir of a young woman whose world has been turned upside down. It is hard to put down and practically begs to be read in one sitting, as it lingers with the reader long after the last page is turned. Genova certainly has found her literary niche.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on February 24, 2011