Monday, April 18, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova *****

Is it ever heroic, or even acceptable, after culminating your education at the top of the class at Harvard Business School, to abandon your highly-paid, 80-hour-a-week executive position to be a stay-at-home mom? Can an author advocate a 60s style retreat to the rural life of imagined pre-industrial simplicity without sounding like someone trying to set feminism back 100 years?

In Left Neglected, author Lisa Genova accomplishes this transformation of Sarah Nickerson with an auto accident and little-known traumatic brain injury called Left Neglect - where the patient, otherwise just fine, has no perception of the left parts of their body or the left side of their visual field. In this situation it seems acceptable to abandon to rush the executive nirvana in favor of some more modest goal: life in the mountains and a part-time job.

The remote possibility of a debilitating auto accident makes this alternative an acceptable fantasy, and Genova's characters with their expected defects (son has ADHD, mother is depressed) smooth over the underlying message that women belong on the farm, not in the office.

Written by a PhD in neuroscience, the clinical and therapeutic story is fascinating even if the retro-message about women is a bit disturbing. It might have been different if the Sarah had made this decision on her own, but driven to it by an Old Testament wrath-of-god/act-of-god accident mars an otherwise delightful book.

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