I loved Still Alice when I read it years ago. I was not nearly as enticed with Left Neglected, because I had a hard time relating to certain aspects of the main character. As a result, I hadn’t paid that much attention to Genova’s follow up novels, but when Caitlin_D described the premise of Every Note Played in her review I was intrigued to see how Genova would explain a woman caring for an ex-husband she still feels so much anger towards.
Karina and Richard’s marriage did not end well. They met in college, both studying to be pianists, and Richard managed to break out and have the career while Karina stayed home and raised their daughter Grace. After those initial years of passion, love and connection, their marriage fell apart after years of resentment, lies, betrayals and unspoken words. Karina still blames Richard for her lack of opportunities, her lost career, and for giving up her dream, and they are not exactly on speaking terms after the divorce. Grace has sided with her mother, and is not speaking to Richard, so it comes as quite a surprise to Karina when she hears that he has ALS at a family friend’s high school graduation celebration.
While Karina checks on Richard after the news, she still does not quite believe it, and asking him to come back to their former home is not an immediate reaction or decision. It takes more time, more interactions, and a greater progression of the disease for Karina to finally face the inevitable and ask Richard to return.
As the novel continues, Genova reveals more about their failed marriage. Karina was actually the more talented of the two when they were students, but fell in love with jazz, a style strongly connected to a few very specific cities. As a foreigner from Poland, Karina did not understand the music scenes of different American cities, and didn’t realize the difficulties of pursuing jazz in Boston until it was too late. Richard, on the other hand, is tired of being the scapegoat for everysingle thing that has ever gone wrong in Karina’s life. He still struggles with his relationship with his father, and questions his own legacy as a father now that his remaining time is so limited. As much as he wants to lash out in anger at his father, he is afraid of apathy, and can’t help but wonder what his own daughter would say to him.
Karina and Richard are flipsides of a coin – she put her professional life on hold for family, he put his family life on hold for career, thinking he would have time to make up for the family part later. Richard’s presence in his old home makes them both confront their own parts in their failed marriage, and their regret.
I can’t say I have given much thought to ALS and its progression prior to this novel, and it was incredibly educational to read through Richard’s journey as he faced the loss of his bodily autonomy and functions. Even with technology, he is still entirely dependent on caregivers for so many aspects of his life. As far as the emotions and reactions this novel caused, I would put it right up there with Still Alice. Genova has such a gift for taking medical conditions, and explaining them in a fictionalized form while also addressing the issues of quality of life for both the victims of the disease and their families and caregivers.