A lookery at “Inside the O’Briens” by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'Briens

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Gallery Books

April 7, 2015

352 pages

$26.00

A preview copy of this novel was provided by NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Prepare yourself for an emotional wild ride when reading Lisa Genova’s novel about a family coping with the devastating affects of Huntington’s Disease in Inside the O’Briens.

Joe O’Brien is an officer on the Boston PD, a third generation Irish “Townie” of the Charlestown neighborhood in Boston, and a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan. Fearing that he will end up like his mother Ruth, who was rumored to have driven herself to drink and the nuthouse, and who died when Joe was only twelve years old, Joe never allows himself more than two beers. Except, of course, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Joe and his wife Rosie have four children in their twenties. All of the children live in the family home — a “triple decker” — with three separate units. Katie and Meghan occupy the top floor as roommates, JJ and his wife Colleen live in the middle, and Patrick still has a room in his parents’ home on the first floor. The close-knit Catholic family gathers in Joe and Rosie’s kitchen each week for Sunday night dinners.

As a police officer, Joe is always “on”; aware of his surroundings, activity in the home and Charlestown, and always in control of his emotions. Very slowly, Joe seems to be losing some of that control. He begins to misplace items, including his service firearm, finds it difficult to write reports at work, becomes confused and clumsy, and experiences involuntary body movements that he doesn’t notice. He begins to make mistakes at work, and loses his temper at home.

Finally, he agrees to see a doctor about his symptoms, and is referred to a specialist in movement disorders. Joe’s diagnosis is devastating. Joe O’Brien has Huntington’s Disease. Inherited from a parent, Huntington’s Disease is a rare illness that usually starts in the prime of life, slowly killing a person by their mid-fifties. The worst news — each of Joe and Rosie’s children have a fifty percent chance of already having the disease.

Genova’s novel delves into each of the family members’ reactions to the diagnosis of their father, and their individual struggles whether or not to be tested for the presence of the disease in themselves.

JJ is a firefighter and his wife is expecting their first baby. Is he affected, and if so, what about his unborn child? Patrick is a bartender, and still trying to find his way in life. A positive diagnosis for Meghan, a dancer with the Boston Ballet, could end her dream career, and yoga instructor Katie has just fallen in love.

Even the most hardened of readers will have a difficult time not tearing up or outright sobbing at the challenges and decisions the family members face. Genova’s ability to evoke such strong emotions in her readers is masterful. Inside the O’Briens not only tells the story of a family, but deftly and simply educates the reader about Huntington’s Disease. Lisa Genova’s novel is a fantastic book and is exceptional on all levels. She has definitely hit a grand slam with this book.

A lookery at “The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand” by Elizabeth Berg

Dream Lover

The Dream Lover:  A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg

Random House

April 14, 2015

368 pages

$28.00

The prolific author George Sand, born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin in 1804 to an aristocratic father and commoner mother, is the subject of Elizabeth Berg’s, The Dream Lover:  A Novel of George Sand. This fictionalized autobiography, written in the style of a personal memoir of Sand’s is typical of the era of the 19th century, giving the reader some insight into how the writer viewed her life experiences.

Aurore was raised by her paternal grandmother on the family’s country estate of Nohant, where as a child she was tutored by the philosopher Deschatres. Her grandmother tried to instill the duties of a lady in Aurore, who preferred nature and freedom to the conventions of her time. At the age of eighteen, she married Casimir Dudevant and later gave birth to a daughter and son. However, Aurore was bored with domestic life, and eventually separated from Casimir, sharing custody of the children with him. Although Aurore was wealthy in her own right, under French law her husband had control of her finances. Unhappy with his wife’s decision to move to Paris for a more exciting existence, Casimir allotted her a pittance of an allowance. Eventually the couple sought a formal and legal separation (divorce being illegal in France), and Aurore took the children to live with her.

Realizing that she would have to work to support the lifestyle she wanted to experience in Paris, Aurore began writing for a local paper in tandem with another journalist, and eventually took the nom de plume of George Sand. As a theater critic for the newspaper, Sand was required to pay her own admission to the plays she reviewed. At the suggestion of her editor, she dressed in men’s clothing to gain access to the less expensive seats in the house. Sand discovered great freedom dressed as a male, and continued to dress as one the rest of her life, although she carried on numerous affairs with men.

Among her friends and lovers were Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Gustave Flaubert, Alfred de Musset and the actress Marie Dorval. Her social and intellectual circle consisted of some of the greatest minds of the European Enlightenment. Sand was often perceived as a promiscuous and fickle bisexual lover, even to this day. In Berg’s novel, she is portrayed as a woman constantly searching for true love. Love, not necessarily sex, is what drove Sand’s affairs, but she was rarely satisfied with her romantic relationships. At the end of her life, she discovers her key to true and constant love, and also realizes which of her many lovers was the one that captured her heart.

At times long-winded, The Dream Lover:  A Novel of George Sand can be difficult to read. The stylized writing and Sand’s constantly shifting romantic loyalties begin to wear on the reader. However, for fans of George Sand who’d like to discover more about the woman’s thoughts and heart, this novel explores the mind of the great writer. It is not simply biographical details of the author’s life; Elizabeth Berg’s novel is an interesting view of this extraordinarily gifted woman’s unconventional life in 19th century France.

Thank you to the publisher, Random House and NetGalley for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.