Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
I just finished reading Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova and enjoyed it. The book was a quick read about a family dealing with the father’s Huntington’s disease diagnosis. As far as disease goes, Huntington’s is a nasty one, ranking right up there with Alzheimer’s or ALS. Patriarch and Boston policeman Joe O’Brien must learn to deal with his terminal and incurable illness, and the rest of his family—wife and four children—struggle with their caregiving roles and the genetic consequences of the disease.
The story touches on a lot of interesting topics that make you think. Would you consider suicide to spare your family having to care for you as you continued to decline for over a decade? Would you want genetic testing to find out if you would follow in a parent’s footsteps with an incurable illness? How would you feel about having no control over whether or not your own children inherited a death-sentence illness from your own genes? Would your faith in God be tested if someone you loved dearly developed a horrible disease like Huntington’s? All of these scenarios are explored in Inside the O’Briens.
I was not familiar with Huntington’s disease, so this story was educational in explaining just what it is and how it affects a person—slowly and insidiously. The narrative delves into relationships and how family members are affected by illness with a genetic link—between spouses, between parents and kids, between siblings, between boyfriends and girlfriends, even between coworkers and friends.
By the end of Inside the O’Briens, the reader understands Joe is headed on a long and difficult journey with Huntington’s. But we’re left to guess how his family will carry on. Will Joe’s wife Rosie find her way back to her faith or lose her religion? Will Joe’s son Patrick and his illegitimate child develop Huntington’s too? Will Joe’s daughter Katie dodge the genetic bullet and find happiness with her boyfriend Felix? Will Joe’s daughter Meghan stay healthy long enough to finish her career as a ballerina before Huntington’s symptoms set in? Will Joe’s new grandson develop Huntington’s too like his father JJ? Or will a cure for Huntington’s save the younger generations of the O’Brien family?
I have my hunches based on clues divulged in the story, but it’s interesting to speculate how it all might work out for everyone. By the end of the story, everyone in the family has figured out a way to live within the shadow of Hungtinton’s. It’s a given that Joe is going to lose his life to Huntington’s disease, but he still wins by the example he sets for his family on how to deal with Huntington’s for the love of his family.
Our own mortality flickers in the shadow of our parents’ lives. I liked how this book plays on that fact; it was an easy and thought-provoking read for me. What do you think? Does Inside the O’Briens sound like a novel you’d be interested in reading?