Inside the O’Briens
by Lisa Genova
“But Huntington’s isn’t the absence of moving, thinking, and feeling. This disease is not a transcendental state of bliss. It’s a complete freak show – ugly, constant, unproductive movements, uncontrollable rage, unpredictable paranoia, obsessive thinking. “
After reading and absolutely loving Lisa Genova’s debut novel, Still Alice, I had high hopes for this book.
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her first novel. Inside the O’Briens focuses on the effect of Huntington’s Disease on a family. HD is a genetic, neurological disease that will slowly kill you, and once you are gene-positive, there is no cure. If your parents have the gene that codes for HD, you have a 50/50 chance of inheriting this disease. This novel centers around the O’Briens family, where Joe O’Brien, a 44 year old police officer, husband and father of four is diagnosed with Huntington’s. Throughout the novel, we read about his daily struggles and the progression of the disease and how it affects not only his life but his family and those around him.
There are multiple points of view, which are mainly Joe and Katie, his 21-year old daughter. Katie is a yoga teacher and always feels like the shadow to her older sister Meghan, who performs with the Boston Ballet. We follow her constant internal struggle of choosing whether or not to take the test that will tell her if she has the Huntington’s gene.
“When I was a kid and we played truth or dare, I always picked dare”, says Katie.
Truth: Find out whether she is going to get Huntington’s disease or not.
Dare: live without knowing , wondering every other second whether she already has it.
She never liked that game. She still doesn’t want to play it.
Reading about the stages of denial, helplessness, anger and grief were really well written and I did feel empathetic towards the characters. With that being said, personally I felt this book lacked a stronger emotional pull towards the characters and at times it felt like reading a medical report on Huntington’s. (I am a pretty sensitive person, and cry easily, but this book didn’t get me emotionally invested enough to the point where I shed even a couple tears…) Each of the characters could have had more complexity and I wish there was more interactions between them, as this novel focuses on family. I wanted to see Joe’s relationships with each of his individual kids, with dealing on how they were reacting to the news and how they are coping with the possibility of them being gene positive. I also wanted to see more interaction between the kids in the family, especially how each of them reacted when they found out the results from their tests.
In my opinion, I didn’t find the ending frustrating because ultimately Katie made a decision on getting the test, which she was struggling with in the first place. SPOILER – highlight to read(In this case, the actual results of the test don’t matter, and I believe that the author purposely omitted this for a reason, and it worked well with the ending as it ended with love and the acceptance of herself to live life to it’s fullest regardless of the results.)
Overall, this book did give me a broader understanding and more insight on Huntington’s disease, which is what the author aimed to do. Although fictional, I believe it portrays realistically a family who is battling this cruel and merciless disease, but gives words of hope and encouragement for the future.