Inside the O'Briens; Lisa Genova
Gallery Books - 2015
Inside the O'Briens is a powerful story about Huntington's Disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure. It's a disease that is inherited, and whereby the offspring of someone with Huntington's has a 50% chance of getting the disease as well.
Joe O'Brien is a 44 year old Boston cop. A proud Irish Catholic, husband of Rosie and father to their (4) - 20-something children: JJ, a firefighter, married to Colleen, Patrick, a bartender, and daughters Meghan, a ballerina with the Boston Ballet and Katie who teaches yoga. Life has been good for the O'Brien's thus far.
When Joe begins acting a bit strange, almost like someone who has had too much to drink, with unexplained fits of anger, disorganized thoughts and unexpected falls, his family and closest friends are naturally a bit concerned. He reluctantly agrees to see a neurologist, his visit and related testing confirms, Huntington's Disease.
The story is written from the third person POV by Joe and daughter Katie. The pace of the story starts off slow, giving the reader insight into the O'Brien family dynamics, and Joe's family history. The slow roll out of the story meshed well with the way Huntington's disease systems actually manifests in real life, gradual and then progressing until the victim loses all control and eventually dies over a period of 10-20 years.
Joe's character is extremely well developed. He's a tough guy cop who is trying to remain strong for those he loves the most. He is naturally embarassed about the public shame he feels for his uncontrolled outbursts and gestures. He is also worried about having to stop work too soon, so as not to impact the financial security of Rosie.
Katie's character and POV comes across as sympathetic. Through her readers can easily gauge just how paralizing the future prospect of having HD can be for the off spring. How the fear of the unknown effects present relationships and future life plans. Just reading about it will make most readers question what they might do if they face the possibility of a future with Huntington's Disease. Whether it is better to be tested or to proceed with life not knowing [only 10 % of potential HD carriers choose to have testing].
Lisa Genova's medical expertise shines through and through in this novel, painting a vivid and realistic picture of the physical and emotional toll Huntington's has on the victim and family. I have worked in (3) different healthcare facilities that specialized in caring for Huntington's patients from all over the US. It's a horrible situation all around.
Inside the O'Briens is not a happy story, but the O'Briens were a wonderful, close-knit family that I grew to care about and love. In the vein of Still Alice, if you loved that book and the mood was not too sad for you, this one will not disappoint.