17 November 2012

Left Neglected

I read Lisa Genova’s  Left Neglected while I was on vacation. I read it because I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) her book Still Alice. That was a very good first-person account of early-onset Alzheimer’s that, while hard to read, was thoughtfully written and very moving.  Left Neglected was about a woman who suffers a brain injury that causes her to loose her Left. She doesn’t recognize that she even has a left side to her body and she doesn’t see the left side of things. It’s very difficult to describe, and the author does a decent job of that in the book, but I still really didn’t like it. The disorder was interesting, and the treatment and rehab were as well, but I did not feel there was enough there for a book as long as this one. At times it read like an awkward PSA for handicapped people, and the author tacked on a superfluous childhood-trauma and parental reunion story that didn’t add anything to the overall story. 

I had two main problems with the book, though, and maybe I’m being overly picky, you decide.

My first problem dealt with the American medical system side of it. The author was very good at capturing the realities of the illness, but not the financial reality of it. Maybe because I was reading it after Occupy and during the election (in October, in Florida, no less), but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the author is probably Republican. Bear with me here. The main character in the book, Sarah, is a very successful business woman, a mother of three, married to another successful business person. They have lots of money, two homes, and a full-time nanny.  So, when she gets a debilitating brain injury, and can’t work, and has extensive medical bills, it’s really not that much of a financial issue. The author really glanced over the realities of having such an extensive hospital stay and long-term treatment in the American health system. This was a very wealthy woman who had good insurance, so the money issue for that family was always "can we afford to keep our nanny and our second home?" and not "what’s the point in surviving only to be $500,000 in debt?" Their money worries never felt real or important - all they had to do was sell one home and fire the nanny. There was one little mention of inadequate insurance coverage for physical therapy, but nothing really became of it. Maybe the author wanted to focus on the recovery and not get bogged down in depressing insurance realities, but somehow I don’t think that’s what was happening.

My second problem with the book was along the same political lines. I felt like the main character, Sarah, was being punished for being a working mother. She was depicted as being a very busy woman who barely had time to go to her kids’ soccer games, who was lucky if she was home in time to tuck her kids into bed. But she seemed to love and take pride in her career. When she got into the accident that caused her brain damage, she was texting for work. The implication seemed to be that this is what happens to women who don't have their priorities straight. After the accident she is determined to recover and get back to the career she worked very hard to build. But in the end she settles for a new, part-time job so she can be at home more, with the kids. Where she belongs. Working is okay for mothers, it seems, as long as it's part-time and you can do most of it from home. Otherwise you deserve what you get. 

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