Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

It's Columbus Day weekend, and they lucked out with gorgeous weather, an Indian-summer day in October. ~ Opening of Love Anthony

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
Gallery Books, 2012
Fiction; 309 pgs

Still Alice had been a difficult read for me because of how close to home it hit. My grandmother suffered from Vascular Dementia the last ten years of her life and my paternal grandfather from Alzheimer's Disease. My husband's uncle had early onset Alzheimer's, which progressed quickly. I still haven't seen the film, Still Alice, and am not sure I will. Reading the book was difficult enough (but very good!). 

Love Anthony was a difficult read for another reason. It hit on two of my hot button issues I do not like to read about: infidelity and the death of a child. This makes the second book this year from my Postal Mail Group that has dealt with difficult for me topics. The other I couldn't get past and it ruined what was likely a good book otherwise. Luckily that wasn't the case with Love Anthony.

Love Anthony follows the stories of two women, both of them mothers whose lives have taken terrible turns. For Beth, it was discovering her husband was having an affair with another woman. Her perfect world is suddenly shattered. She feels lost, unsure of who she is anymore. The man she trusted and loved and had three children with is not the man she thought he was. Then there is Olivia who recently lost her eight year old son. Anthony was diagnosed with autism at age three. He was nonverbal throughout his short life, and Olivia and her husband struggled for many years to adjust to his diagnosis. They tried every treatment, and it wore on them personally as well as on their marriage. Olivia dearly loved her son, and his loss, as would be expected, devastated her. Isolating herself in the family home in Nantucket, Olivia tries to come to terms with the loss of her child and her marriage.

A parent's worst nightmare is losing a child. My heart instantly went out to Olivia. Her grief is complicated by her feelings of regret and unanswered questions about her son's very existence. Olivia remembers her life with Anthony, the struggles she had with him, wanting to connect with him, hoping she was doing so, but unable to tell if she did. Author Lisa Genova expertly gets into the head of a woman suffering not only the loss of a child, but also of a mother raising an autistic boy. We see her pain and frustration, her heartbreak and grief. We also experience her love and joy. 

On the outside, Beth's life appears perfect. She's married with three girls and has a great group of friends. In fact, we first meet Beth's friends at their book club meeting. Her life hasn't been without its ups and downs, but things seem be going well. Or so she thought until she discovered her husband's infidelity. I felt for Beth, and I empathized with her inner conflict. She truly loves her husband, but the loss of trust in him, the betrayal she feels, is something that isn't easily overcome. If there is any sympathy I am supposed to feel towards Beth's husband, it is completely lost on me given my strong feelings about infidelity. Just the same, it isn't hard to see why their relationship unraveled. 

In her grief over her marriage, Beth finds an old story she'd written that had been hidden in the attic. She suddenly finds herself wanting to continue that story. Written from the perspective of an autistic boy, Beth's novel quickly begins to take shape. The boy at the heart of her story is eerily similar to Olivia's son, the novel story mirroring Olivia's life. I admit, I found this to be one of the weakest points in the novel--how this comes about and what happens after.

I had expected Olivia and Beth's characters to intersect sooner than they actually did. The reader gets to know each of them in alternating chapters, as well as through Olivia's journal entries from her son's childhood and Beth's novel as she writes it. It isn't until late in the novel the two women come together, but it doesn't make their story any less compelling.

Love Anthony is both heartbreaking and hopeful. It is about endings and beginnings. Most of all, it is about unconditional love. 
"Children who are deaf and can never hear or say the words I love you feel love. Children who are born with no limbs or who lose their arms and can't hug still feel love. Love is felt beyond words and touch. Love is energy. Love is God." [Love Anthony, pg 145]
In her research, Lisa Genova had this to say in her author's note, which has really stuck with me:
After talking with parents, physicians, and therapists and reading as much as I could about autism for the past two years, here's what I've come to believe: 
The spectrum is long and wide, and we're all on it. Once you believe this, it becomes easy to see how we're all connected. [Love Anthony, pg 306]

For more information about the author, Lisa Genova, and her book visit her website.

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Sounds like a really moving book! I remember reading Still Alice a long time ago, so maybe I should read this too.

  2. This does sound heartbreaking. I think I'd have to be in the right mood to read it.

  3. I couldn't read Still Alice because of my father's descent into the illness. I also have trouble with infidelity and the death of children, but it is difficult to avoid those topics since I read a lot of mysteries. However, it is the way the topics are written about that can be so moving. Great quote at the end about the length and width of the spectrum!

  4. I read & enjoyed very much Still Alice and Left Neglected. Both excellent. My dad had advanced-age dementia, or whatever the correct term is for being like that when you lived to your mid-80s. I was able to handle the book maybe because he's been passed for 10 years.

    I read Love, Anthony enjoyed it too but a bit less, maybe because I have a grown child on the autistic spectrum with what used to be diagnosed as Aspergers Syndrome, but now they want to call it high-functioning autism... whatever, it's hard to read what people write about it unless they have lived with it or a person living with it.

    I do love her author's note about everyone being on the spectrum a little bit or a lot.. my whole extended family group has issues-- such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc. etc in varying degrees.

    I too wished that the mothers would get together sooner but it was still a powerful book. I haven't read The O'Briens yet (isn't that her newest one?). Did you? Left Neglected was my hands-down favorite of hers.

  5. I don't think I will be able to read this one. I cried buckets reading Still Alice and that is without the subject being any close to home. This one about a child is just going to be hard to read.

  6. Still Alice was such a fabulous book but I haven't gotten around to reading anything else by her. I do have this book on my shelf and I loved your review.

  7. I've wanted to red Genova's books for awhile as they all sound amazing but they tackle such heartbreakingly difficult subjects that I've chickened out. I'm not sure this one is for me as the infidelity and death of a child just sound too crushing.

  8. For many reasons, and your review adds to it, I just don't know if I can read this one. I do like the last quote because the more you learn about autistic traits the more you will see in yourself and others. But mothers with kids on the spectrum, and obviously I'm just speaking for me, have such complicated emotions about their kids that it would be painful to contemplate especially in the face of the child's death. I did just read Still Alice and loved it, but not sure I'm interested in a book about an autistic character without the author being intimately familiar. Great review, Wendy!

  9. Sounds like a very tough read. I had a hard time with Still Alice and really haven't been affected by Alzheimers; can't imagine reading this one as a parent and married person.

  10. What an AWESOME review, Wendy! Even though the two topics were very difficult for you to deal with, you still managed to write a wonderfully insightful, fair review! KUDOS to you!

    I can totally empathize with you regarding these two topics. They are very difficult for me to deal with, as well. I have experienced infidelity, so am unable to read any book dealing with this topic without feeling not only sadness, but anger, as well. In fact, I don't feel at all sorry for Angelina Jolie for what she's going through in her divorce from Brad Pitt. As the saying goes, "What goes around comes around."

    Several years ago, I tried to read "Anna Karenina", but could not get through it. I hated her and her lover, Vronsky, too much! They were totally unrepentant and remorseless, which made things much worse. My anger kept rising as I turned the pages, so eventually, I had to stop reading the blasted book!

    As for losing a child, I never had any kids (they just never arrived), but having wanted to have a child, and never being lucky enough to have one, I can imagine how utterly devastating such a loss would be! My heart goes out to every woman (and man) who has ever gone through this horrible experience.

    I admire your bravery in tackling these two heart-rending subjects, which, from your review, I can see this author has handled masterfully. I am just not that brave!

    Thanks for your thoughts!! <3 :)


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