Like Still Alice before it, Inside the O’Briens, tackles a neurological disorder; rather than Alzheimer’s we get Huntington’s. Prior to Dr.”Thirteen” on House I had never heard of Huntington’s; Genova does an excellent job explaining both the genetic factors of Huntington’s as well as the physical and mental effects of the disease.
Joe O’Brien is a Catholic, family man who works for Boston P.D. He begins to notice some disorganized thoughts & uncontrollable movements, he chalks it up to stress until his wife gets concerned and takes him to a neurologist. He is diagnosed with Huntington’s. It was common knowledge that Joe’s mother drank herself to death; however Joe’s new diagnosis makes him reconsider her situation and realize she died of Huntington’s. Since he has a 50/50 chance of passing the Huntington’s gene to his four children, and if they get the gene they have a 100% chance of getting Huntington’s, he breaks the news to his kids who must decide if they want to know before they begin showing symptoms if they will share the same fate.
The book also follows Joe’s youngest daughter, Katie, as she struggles with her decision to know her fate or not. Her situation is complicated by a new romance and what Huntington’s could mean for their future together.
This is not a feel good book. You follow Joe as he rapidly deteriorate within a year of his diagnosis and see how his disease affects everyone in the family on some level. Huntington’s affect on Joe’s relationship with his wife is particularly painful as is the slow realization that Joe is not going to be capable of working as a Police officer with his symptoms. Lisa Genova is a talented write who meticulously researched Huntington’s in order to make a real world full of well rounded characters.