When Lisa Genova’s new book, Left Neglected, arrived, I immediately put it at the top of my ever growing pile of books to read. I knew that if she was able to hook the reader, allowing them to empathize with the characters’ experiences, just as she so convincingly did in her first book, Still Alice, I would be able to finish the book in no time. And, I was right.
Genova, armed with a PH.D in Neuroscience from Harvard University and an uncanny ability for producing novels that combine science and medicine in a genuine, accessible and understandable way, has hit a home run with her new book. Sarah, the protagonist, is living what some people would call the American dream. She shares her life in a tony Boston suburb with her husband and two small children, has all the trappings of success and a time consuming career that she loves. But, when she’s involved in a serious car accident, her life comes to a halt as she painstakingly adjusts to the physical and mental consequences of her accident.
Sarah suffers a traumatic brain injury called Left Neglect which is caused by an injury or a stroke to the right hemisphere of the brain. Left Neglect results in patients rendered incapable of seeing or experiencing objects and people on their left side. As Sarah goes through her rehab, we see the results of her disorder. Asked to copy a picture or a clock, she produces images on only the right side of the paper. In every other way, Sarah is normal, but now she must relearn to walk, get herself dressed, train her body to ‘remember’ that she has a left side and learn how to read a whole page of words. The reader accompanies Sarah on this journey knowing that her full recovery may or may not occur.
Genova does state in the author’s notes that, “as of the writing of this story, the neurological processes that underlie Left Neglect are not well understood”. But, as in her first book, Genova has given the reader a gift-educating them about a condition of the brain that they were most likely unaware of while offering them a fulfilling reading experience. Just as Oliver Sacks, the best selling neurologist, has written a number of popular nonfiction books about neurological disorders and case studies, Genova weaves the same type of information into attention holding prose and characters in her unforgettable fiction. Let’s hope she keeps writing for a long time to come!