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.