Joe O'Brien is a cop. He lives in Boston in a house with his wife Rosie, his four children and his eldest son's wife. Lately, Joe hasn't been feeling well. His balance is off and his memory is not what it used to be. He has started to twitch in ways that make him feel uncomfortable and the whole family is made uncomfortable by the uncontrollable rage that bursts out of him at unexpected times. After avoiding the issue for too long, he goes to see his doctor, who refers him to a neurologist. The neurologist runs some tests and delivers Joe some awful, awful news - he has Huntingdon's disease, a terminal neurological condition that "is characterized by a progressive loss of voluntary motor control and an increase in involuntary movements."
While that news is genuinely terrible, the neurologist follows it up with even worse information. Because Huntingdon's is an inherited condition, there is a 50% chance that each of Joe and Rosie's children will also have the disease. The book follows the O'Briens as they grapple with this news. Joe needs to get used to the idea that he has to stop work and will gradually lose control of his own body. Additionally, he realises that his mother, who was sent to an institution for a condition that noone every named, also died of Huntingdon's and no-one told him. Each of the children have to decide whether they want to take the test and find out whether or not they have the disease. Each of them has something at stake: JJ's wife is pregnant with their first child; Meghan is a ballet dancer; Katie is a yoga teacher and Patrick is still finding his place in the world.
This book is meticulously researched and it is one of Lisa Genova's greatest writing skills to be able to personalise debilitating neurological conditions. I learnt a lot about Huntingdon's while reading this book. However, unlike the previous Genova novel I read and really enjoyed, Still Alice, I always felt like the O'Brians were kept at a clinical distance from me. I don't know if it's the novel's Boston setting or that I thought the children should stop dilly-dallying and just make a decision (I'd take the test right away - knowledge is power) but I felt as if I was watching a story play out rather than being emotionally involved. It's a good book, just not as good as Still Alice. Three stars.