Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Published March 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
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.
I read Lisa Genova's Still Alice in 2014 and it made my best-of list that year. That book really spoke to me and I was impressed with Genova's ability to combine the science of an illness and a really wonderful story. It was not the first book I'd read by Genova; in 2012 I read Left Neglected and felt very much the same about it. Which meant that I am prone to want to read anything that she writes and was eager to read this one when I first found out about it.
One of the things that I said about both Left Neglected and Still Alice was that the characters felt so real and relatable. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the same way about the characters in Every Note Played. The focus here is very tightly pulled in on just Richard and Karina so it's very important that readers care about them. But I found that I didn't care enough about them as people. Certainly I felt sorry for Richard as he watched his life slip away from him and sorry for Karina as her life becomes entirely wrapped up in having to care for him. Yes, they both had very tough childhoods which should have made me understand them better. But the crux of really caring about their relationship is that readers need to believe that, once upon a time, they were in love so that we can care about how their relationship failed. But, I didn't feel that way, so it was harder to be sad that their marriage had failed and harder to buy into the need to forgive each other and try to remember what they once had.
Genova has plenty to teach readers about the terrible betrayal of the body that is ALS. Stephen Hawking was the poster boy for ALS for decades but the truth is that those who contract ALS rarely live that long. I was astonished by how fast Richard's disease progressed; although I haven't looked into how accurate that was, Genova does have a PhD in neuroscience and her books seem well researched so I always feel like I've been well educated when I've finished one.
I only wish the story here had been one that drew me in more, that I had cared more about the characters. Still, I must admit that I did tear up near the end. So maybe I did come to care more than I realized.