Review: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to everyone who celebrates these holidays! I hope that everyone had a lovely weekend (or, if you’re like me, a long weekend!). I spent most of it relaxing with my mom, reading and studying. What was I reading, you might ask? Well, Every Note Played by Lisa Genova, which incidentally is released TODAY! A huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an ARC of this novel in order for me to review it.

I felt ridiculously connected with this book. I knew the book was about ALS, and knew the Genova was both an accomplished author (she’s also written Still Alice) and a neurologist, which gave me a lot of hope for this book to be interesting, scientifically accurate, and heart wrenching. I was right. As usual, I’ll try to keep my review as spoiler free as possible, but no promises.

Synopsis: An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.
Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.
He knows his left arm will go next.
Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.
When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

First off, I’m sure most of you are vaguely acquainted with ALS. A couple years ago, the ‘Ice-Bucket challenge’ was big on the internet, with people dumping water over their head in order to experience if even for a second what ALS feel like. ALS is a disease that gradually paralyzes people, breaking the connections between the brain and motor neurons, leaving people unable to move and perform life sustaining functions like eating and breathing.

This book gives a very visceral description of ALS. Having two perspectives in the novel, Karina (who does not have ALS) and Richard (who does) gives us two very different views of the disease, one from the person going through it directly, and how it has a second-hand effect on their loved ones and the ones around them. To me this was one of the most moving parts of the novel. Not even love, but the amount of care and compassion that Karina showed in the novel was huge. Bill, a house-aid that Richard hires, is bright and funny, and shows how important support and self care is. Grace, Richard and Karina’s daughter, as well as Richard’s brothers, are all shown to be dealing with the disease in their own ways, and it’s a very honest narrative. Karina breaks under the pressure of caring for Richard, Richard hates being infantilized, is desperately in denial in the beginning of the disease. The book shows the full scope of ALS, and I think that by doing this it allows for people who haven’t experienced it in anyway to gain compassion for those who have.

I’m also really glad that the booked allowed for so much exploration of forgiveness in whatever capacity people are able. Between Richard and Karina, Richard and Grace, Richard and his family, there are so many instances of forgiving and moving forward that it was really uplifting. I’m personally going through a rough patch with my dad, and to see Grace and Richard working through their troubles really gave me hope (even if it was only fiction, it was a great thing to read). I gotta say, there were so many touching parts of the story that made me want to cry. I especially liked the ending of the bad blood between Richard and Karina (which I won’t give any hints about as it’s a very sweet part of the book).

One thing that I found interesting was the reason of Richard and Karina’s separation and subsequent divorce. I completely understood Karina’s side of the story. What Richard did was exceeding shitty, and I applaud Karina for taking steps to help herself be happy outside of the marriage. Richard’s side I found very hard to sympathize with. While I realize that it felt like a giant betrayal (and it is) and could have been easily resolved by a conversation, I don’t think Karina was entirely in the wrong. It’s not her fault that she felt like this was a conversation she could have with Richard, and I’m staunchly pro-choice – Karina alone has the power to make that decision and she made it. While the execution left something to be desired, I will not fault her for wanting what she wanted.

One of the most memorable and tragic things about the story was Richard himself. Not because of his paralysis and condition, but because for some reason it slips my mind that mental function isn’t always affected in these diseases, which is silly. Look at Stephen Hawkings (who just passed away recently, god bless his soul) – a ground breaking theoretical physicist. His mind, like Richard’s, was not affected by ALS. Richard’s internal struggle and struggle to remain at peace with himself, even when he was fully paralyzed, was so tragic and memorable. It really drove home how devastating ALS is.

Going through the characters stories was really entertaining, and even though we only saw it through flashbacks, everything felt very filled in for me. I wasn’t ever under the impression that the character’s actions were unexplained or unreasonable, and I grew to feel for each character (especially Grace).

In the end, I really wanted Karina to go and be the amazing Jazz Pianist that we all know she is, I wanted Grace to move forward, and I’m glad that Richard gained peace with his regrets.

Lisa Genosa, at the end of her novel, puts out a call to action for us readers. If we all gave even 2 dollars, this would help so much with funding research towards curing ALS. To donate through the ALS Society of Canada please click here! To donate through Lisa’s website visit here, where she also gives options to donate to Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. If you are in position to be able to donate, I urge you to be part of finding the cure for these diseases.

Overall, I can find absolutely no problems with this book. A solid 5/5 stars. Be sure to check it out, I very strongly suggest it!!

Anyways, that’s all for now loves, have a good week and I’m sure I’ll be back soon!
– Mon

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