So, here’s the last of the Lisa Genova oeuvre. If I had to rank her three titles thus far, the #1 slot – shelves ahead of her others – remains her stupendous debut, Still Alice, then continues with this, Left Neglected, trailed by her most recent, Love Anthony.
Armed with their Harvard MBAs (I feel I must start there because the protagonist makes reference to that lofty degree at least a dozen times, as if it defines her whole existence), Sarah and Bob are happily married, well-employed, live in a tony Boston suburb with a country house in Vermont, have three adorable young children (named after Peanuts characters – really! – Charlie, Lucy, and Linus), with the perfect nanny to mind them while they put in endless work hours (40 hours is considered part-time). Lest you think their lives are a bit too perfect, Bob is proactively job-hunting because his company is downsizing, Sarah would like a bigger house with another bedroom for a live-in nanny, the family is so busy they can’t even take a weekend off to use that inviting country house, Charlie is having serious problems in first grade, and their ideal nanny is off to get her master’s degree in childhood education.
One rainy Friday – every week, the power couple flip a coin to see who gets to have the kid-free, undisturbed commute into work – Sarah (driving solo) has a terrifying car accident and wakes up in a hospital bed. Initially she seems okay … but the brain damage she’s sustained is diagnosed as Left Neglect, which means everything on her left side seems virtually missing. She doesn’t know where her left arm is, she can’t see her husband if he stands by the window on the left side of her hospital room, she doesn’t see the left side of the page when she tries to read a story to her daughter. She may or may not ever recover.
Therapy, rehab, “homework,” all help … as well as her estranged mother who for the first time in their lives is truly by Sarah’s side even when Sarah makes it clear that her mother is unwanted – too little, too late. In spite of all the support, Sarah’s most difficult challenge will be a readjustment of her expectations, not just of her recovering body, but of her closest relationships, her career, and her elusive peace (piece?) of mind.
Genova’s background as a Harvard-trained neuroscientist (first line of her bio) surely gives her an intimate understanding of brain-related conditions (which, in her books, all start with the letter ‘A’): Alzheimer’s in Alice, Autism in Anthony, and ADHD and Accident here in Left Neglected. While her writing seems effortlessly fluid, her sentences expressively crafted, her stories, her characters in her latter two novels just don’t correlate with the quality of her words. That said, I’m clearly in the minority as her titles are no strangers to the coveted New York Times bestseller list. As she reveals on her website that she’s “currently working on her fourth novel,” hope springs eternal that her next will be as good as her first.