Review of Inside the O’Brien’s by Lisa Genova

Inside O'BriensIn Inside the O’Briens, Lisa Genova takes us on a journey through living with Huntington’s Disease (HD).

The O’Briens are a typical, blue-collar Boston family. Joe has been a policeman his entire life. He and his wife, Rosie, and their four children live in a three-story walk-up in Charlestown. Joe’s been a Townie his entire life. Life has been good – until odd things begin to happen with Joe’s motor skills. First inexplicably dropping things, then the inability to keep his feet still. Joe hasn’t felt the need to visit a doctor for twenty years, but after being chastised at work for not being able to keep formation, Rosie insists on taking him to the doctor. A neurological exam, and blood test, reveal that Joe has Huntington’s Disease.

Hours later, alone in his cruiser, he noticed his hands gripped around the steering wheel, shaking so violently that the entire car shimmied.

But the worst part is that each child has a fifty-fifty chance of having it as well, and if they have the gene, a fifty-fifty chance of passing it to their own children.

Genova takes us on a journey through Joe’s earliest symptoms of anger and violence, to his later inability to control his muscle movement. In addition, she explores the very terrifying prospect of genetic testing that Joe’s children must consider. Is it better to know that you have the gene and will one day suffer the full effects, most likely dying by the age of fifty? Or is it better to live without knowing your fate?

And what if the results are negative? Can one deal with the guilt of health when those you love are doomed to disease and death? How do you act and what do you say when those you love are battling a life-altering illness?

She feels that she has to be so careful now, especially around her family, worrying about what not to say, what not to notice. Sunday suppers in that cramped kitchen are particularly excruciating, where every spoken and withheld word seems to stomp on a minefield of eggs, crushing them into sharp shards that slice her lungs, making it painful to breathe.

In Inside the O’Briens, Genova takes us into the minds of a family whose life has been turned upside down by the prognosis of consistently worsening debilitation, and explores how different people cope in different ways. The story leaves readers with a vivid picture of living with HD, and fills us with the obsession that her characters feel as they struggle to deal with lives that have been forever altered.

In the book, the terms Huntington’s Disease and HD have been used an inordinate amount of times, almost overwhelming the reader, and I can only wonder if this was Genova’s way of showing us how one can get lost in the negative energy that living with a chronic illness can cause?

But in the end, we are reminded that even though fate can be almost cruel in doling out undeserved suffering to good people, one can still live life with thankfulness and grace, enjoying and appreciating every moment that we’re given.

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for providing an Advance Reader’s Copy for reading and review.

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