Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Left Neglected is the latest from Still Alice author, Lisa Genova.  Still Alice (reviewed HERE) was one of my favorite books of 2009, and was discussed and well-loved by my book club.  I bought Left Neglected on the Nook the minute I heard it was out.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

In an instant, life can change forever.

Sarah Nickerson is a high-powered working mom with too much on her plate and too little time. One day, racing to work and trying to make a phone call, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In the blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled life come to a screeching halt. A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of her world. As she struggles to recover, she discovers she must embrace a simpler life, and in so doing begins to heal the things she’s left neglected in herself, her family, and the world around her.

My review:

Sarah is busy.  She and her husband and their nanny juggle parenting responsibilities for their 3 kids, and 80 hour work weeks are common.  They live in an affluent neighborhood, own a vacation home in Vermont, and race through their days at a breakneck pace until the minute everything changes in a horrible crash.

Sarah’s accident leaves her with a traumatic brain injury called Left Neglect Syndrome, a fascinating condition in which there is damage to the right hemisphere of the brain that causes the patient to experience a deficit in attention and failure to recognize the left side of their body or space.  They are unaware of the left of things.  Left is no longer there.  It is non-existent.

While reading about Sarah’s disregard for all things ‘left’ I tried to imagine that.  It’s not a visual problem and that’s the only way I could picture it.  Not seeing the left is one thing, but not realizing you have a left hand, or not being able to fathom where it might be, is quite another.  Only noticing things on the right (for instance, only your right leg) makes it difficult to walk.  So many things we take for granted, like getting dressed, become huge, time-consuming hurdles.

Sarah’s mother comes to help with the kids during Sarah’s months-long rehabilitation, which is a blessing and a curse.  Their relationship is complicated and distant initially due to a childhood tragedy and maternal neglect, but one of the blessings (yes, blessings) of Sarah’s brain injury is the time it affords her to grow closer to her mother and repair that relationship.  Another blessing of the brain injury:  she comes to know and appreciate the special challenges of her young son Charlie, recently diagnosed with ADD.

Sarah gets used to her new normal and learns to adapt to her special needs, but it’s a bumpy road.  She needs to come to terms with who she was and how things have changed.  It’s a painful process but not without it’s joys.

Lisa Genova is Harvard-educated with a degree in Biopsychology and a Ph.D. in Nueroscience.  She creatively pours all that scientific knowledge of the brain into her writing.  In Left Neglected she makes you understand and really feel what it means to be brain injured, just as she did in her wonderful debut novel, Still Alice, about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Left Neglected is terrific and compelling.  And if there is a moral to the story, I’d say it’s:

Slow down, people!  Pay attention.  The journey is the destination.

Note to self:

Sometimes I am truly busy.  I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.

Other times I am just busy being busy.  I tell myself I thrive on multi-tasking and I think I do it well, but does anyone really need to do 14 things at once?  Must we make good use (or, rather, multiple use) of every second of every day?

I used to make phone calls while driving because I felt that driving was sort of forced down-time and what a perfect way to make it productive.  I looked around me and saw other drivers doing the very same thing.  I did it all the time until they enacted a law here in California forbidding it.  My rational brain agreed with the law and believed that distracted drivers are a true danger to themselves and others.  But even so I didn’t think it applied to me, so I kept doing it for awhile even after the law took effect.  It was a hard habit to break.

But I am now reformed.  Not because of a horrible accident or a close call or even a ticket, but because of a book.  Thank you, Lisa Genova.  I know it’s dangerous and realize I am not so special that it can’t happen to me.

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