Published by Gallery Books on September 25th 2012
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Mental health
From the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Left Neglected, comes a heartfelt novel about an accidental friendship that gives a grieving mother a priceless gift: the ability to understand the thoughts of her eight-year-old autistic son and make sense of his brief life.
Two women, each cast adrift by unforseen events in their lives, meet by accident on a Nantucket beach and are drawn into a friendship.
Olivia is a young mother whose eight-year-old severely autistic son has recently died. Her marriage badly frayed by years of stress, she comes to the island in a trial separation to try and make sense of the tragedy of her Anthony’s short life.
Beth, a stay-at-home mother of three, is also recently separated after discovering her husband’s long-term infidelity. In an attempt to recapture a sense of her pre-married life, she rekindles her passion for writing, determined to find her own voice again. But surprisingly, as she does so, Beth also find herself channeling the voice of an unknown boy, exuberant in his perceptions of the world around him if autistic in his expression—a voice she can share with Olivia—(is it Anthony?)—that brings comfort and meaning to them both.
After having read and loved Still Alice and Left Neglected, I thought Lisa Genova was going to be one of those authors who can do no wrong. Well, I sort of abandoned that fantasy after the confusing borefest that was Love Anthony. I appreciate that Genova is trying to introduce readers to the fields of clinical psychology and neuroscience, but a complex disorder alone just won’t do for an interesting read.
Genova undoubtedly has the talent to make you see any form of cognitive impairment from a totally different perspective, be it Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injuries, or autism. Make you understand. Make you relate to these people. Therefore, I thought Genova’s idea of showing how the world looked like to Anthony, an autistic boy who dies at a young age, was a good one. I’ve read a couple of books on autism but if anyone was going to pull this off in a both brilliant and scientifically correct way, it was Lisa Genova. I also enjoyed learning more about the parents’ struggle with this peculiar boy and how it affected their relationship, as this is a side that is often dismissed in books focusing in autism.
As with many novels, the idea sounds better than the execution. Unfortunately, the rest of the story, not featuring flashbacks on Anthony’s life, failed to capture entirely. A plot is suppsed to have substance, a focus or a goal, but this one had neither. It seemed to me as though Genova had written the core parts of the story about Anthony and had then used the remaining plot as a space filler. What truly ruined the book for me was when Beth wrote a story about an autistic boy and kind of “channelled” Anthony onto the pages, and I just couldn’t take this book seriously anymore after that. What I had hitherto always valued about Genova was her clever combination of a touching patient’s story and science, but this was hokum. And don’t get me wrong, I understand that Beth’s story was supposed to bring more insight into autism, but for me, “channelling” a deceased boy’s spirit is the matieral of esoteric books rather than a mental health nove.
Love Anthony, though certainly insightful at times, was a huge disappointment for me. I learned to love Genova’s books as masterpieces of “creative science”, as she’s a gifted writer and neuroscientist. This book, however, cannot level with the brilliance of her previous works by far. If you’re interested in mental health books, I’d recommend checking out Still Alice and Left Neglected.