Book Review: Love, Anthony


The first two weeks this year I had some seriously fantastic reading.  I laughed all of the way through Amy Poehler's Yes Pleaseand was mesmerized by rowing (rowing?!!) when I devoured The Boys in The Boat.  What a great way to start a year! This week I tackled my first novel of the year called Love, Anthony by Lisa Genova.  This book is about a mother who is coping with the death of her autistic son.  I picked up the book because my Mom keeps gushing about Genova's earlier and more famous novel Still Alice which is a highly acclaimed story about a young woman with Alzheimer's.  However, the library didn't have Still Alice available (when a book is up for an Academy Award, copies are scarce!!), so, as a fall-back, I decided to try Love, Anthony.

The read was decidedly mixed for me.

The highlights:

The writing was clear, and the story moved at a very brisk pace.  I finished the book in two sittings and was never bored.  If you read a bunch of books, I would go ahead and put this one in the mix.

Portions of the book were written from the perspective of the boy with autism and these sections were remarkable.  I loved hearing and thinking about the world from an entirely different perspective.   In a similar way, I enjoyed the way Genova dealt with some of the social stigmas around autism.  I definitely feel I will be more empathic with parents of autistic children when I'm around them.

However, the book had its low-lights as well:

The biggest distraction were the plot lines.  I won't break down the specifics, but I felt Genova took some short-cuts to move the story along.  This gave the book an air of predictability and it flattened out the characters.  I had a difficult time being terribly attached to any of the characters because I never felt I knew them very well.

So when I was reading this sentence near the end of the book, I wasn't entirely sure how the character Olivia came to this conclusion:

“But reading her journals has helped her to remember more than that morning. There was more to Anthony’s life than his death. And there was more to Anthony than his autism. So much more. She can think about Anthony now and not be consumed by autism or grief.”

 Even the final take from Anthony felt predictable as he "communicates" with his mother:

“Take what you've learned and love someone again. Find someone to love and love without condition. This is why we're all here.”

 Yes, this is a wonderful sentiment, but it felt too easily attained; unearned by the character development.

Surprisingly, and randomly, what I enjoyed most were the insights from one of the characters who was a writer.  In those sections, the character Beth contemplates the process of writing.  Beth (Genova) is remarkably insightful on how a story fights for its voice.  She worries about completing her work and concludes

“Don't aim for perfect. Aim for complete. Perfection is an unattainable illusion.”

Amen sister!

And so, while I applaud Ms. Genova's work, I'm hoping for less predictability when I finally get to Still Alice!