Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.
Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?
As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: April 7th 2015
This story explores the effect that a chronic condition, which has no cure, and is hereditary, affects not only the sufferer but also those who are involved with them (family, friends etc). The condition here is called Huntington’s diseases and a police officer called Joe is diagnosed with it. Total paralysis is said to happen over the course of 10 – 15 years.
The first part of the story sets the scene and focusses on Joe and how he copes with the knowledge that he has an incurable disease which is also hereditary and what this will mean for him and his wife and children. His wife is a strict Roman Catholic and for a big part of this book she holds steadfastly to her faith for strength, comfort, and help in understanding what’s going on in her family. Joe and their children aren’t as strict adherents of this faith.
The second part of this book is heavily, heavily, centred around one of Joe’s daughters (Kate) experience of coping with the news that her dad is going to die and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. Kate is a yoga teacher and this part explores how she feels/copes/manages, with the knowledge that she could have the gene chain which means she may end up developing this condition herself later in life. My disappointment with section stemmed from the fact that it sounded very much like the whole book’s story was Kate’s story and not her father’s. Kate came across as very immature girl who was whingeing and making mountains out of molehills. I chose to persevere, which I was glad about in the end. Toward the end of this part you could see Kate’s development through her inner turmoil which such news inevitably causes.
Genova has once again shown why she is considered to be such a great writer as she’s not afraid to tackle the hard topics. I’m very much reminded of Jodi Picoult when I read Genova’s work. Extremely thought provoking. I really enjoyed this book. Well worth a read.
The third part returns to Joe and the rest of his family. We see how much the family, individually and as a whole, grow, develop, and accept Joe’s condition. There were some fun parts in the story and one scene ended up being very profound. We see Joe and his wife having had a discussion about the whole situation. Joe’s wife Rosie, is drunk and Joe is in the advanced stages of Huntingtons. They’re walking back to the kitchen and neither of them are walking in a straight line, Joe reflects “…that this is the best anyone can hope for in life. Someone you love to stagger through the hard times with.” Very wise words that we could all do to live by.
Recommend for: Adults
Rating: 3.5 stars.
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