Every Note Played by Lisa Genova by Lisa Genova
Published by Scout Press, 307 pages, $26
Before you decide you can’t bear to read a book about ALS, remember the grace that neuroscientist, novelist and Harvard grad Lisa Genova brought to early Alzheimer’s in her debut novel, Still Alice. In her latest book, Every Note Played, Genova details the story of Richard, a concert pianist and divorced man who finds his famous fingers—and subsequently his whole body—frozen and failing from this relentlessly cruel disease.
Years before, Richard and his then-wife Karina had moved to Boston, where he worked at the New England Conservatory of Music and began playing around—in both senses of the word—in many cities as he toured. Karina abandoned her career as a jazz musician in New York while caring for their daughter, Grace, who Richard largely ignored. The music theme—and its divisive effect on Richard and Karina’s marriage—is one that symbolically plays throughout the novel and in Genova’s rendering, you can almost hear the music as she beautifully describes it.
But now Richard’s very sick and needs help with contraptions such as a feeding tube and the agonizing restrictions of moving or even breathing. Bill, a charming health aide, brings sunshine to Richard and the book while the marital vow of “in sickness” reluctantly brings Karina back to her former spouse’s side. Though hardly a full reconciliation, the two gradually recognize, admit and apologize for their marital missteps. Along with sharing scientific information about the disease, Genova paints a graceful literary and psychological picture of the whole painful dilemma.
From Page 263: “His limbs are petulant children, unreachable through begging, bribery, ultimatums, or sweet talk. He tries to imagine the war beneath his skin; the invaded countries of his neurons and muscles overwhelmed, decimated; the neutral territories of bone, ligament, and tendon rendered useless by the horrific destruction surrounding them. His entire body is detaching, unzipping from his soul.” ◆