Lisa Genova's second novel, Left Neglected, was impossible for me to put down. Sarah, the mother in this book, is living life in the fast lane. With too many things to do she rushes from her job - a demanding career that consumes at least 80 hours each week- to her home where she has three young children. Her husband is also working too many hours often staying late at work.
When one rainy morning Sarah has a car accident - her fault as she is talking on her cell phone, it is raining, and she isn't able to stop in time as she notices brake lights in front of her. She awakens eight days later, happy to be alive, but no longer the person she once was. Instead, Sarah now has Left Neglect, no longer recognizing anything on the left side of her body. Genova gives real examples of how Sarah is affected by this. She cannot see the food on the left side of her plate (yet when she rotates the plate, she is able to see it when it moves to the right side), she cannot see people on her left, and she is unable to control her left arm and leg. The able multi-tasker cannot even read a story to her daughter. Nothing makes sense when only the words on the right side of a book are read.
Sarah begins rehabilitation, intent on recovering one hundred percent. She improves and plateaus, and realizes how inadequate the health care system is as she is sent home from a rehab facility long before she is ready, and is eventually done with outpatient therapy, realizing that any return to "normal" will now be under her own direction. Luckily Sarah's mother is able to move in and help. This is especially important - not only is her mother caring for Sarah and her children- but it also gives Sarah and her mother a chance to reconnect. After Sarah's younger brother died when they were children, her mother has been absent at best.
Genova's novel ends realistically. As anyone who ever suffers an accident or near-death illness knows, "normal" is now different, not the same as before. I had to remind myself that Sarah is just a character in this novel. She felt real to me the entire way through. Genova writes in Sarah's perspective, and despite the brain injury, I enjoyed that Sarah's voice does not change. While her ability to use the left side of her body is diminished, her thoughts and voice are hers throughout. Perhaps the one aspect that didn't ring entirely true was the lack of any "why me?" or depression in Sarah. I can't imagine anyone suffering an accident such as hers without questioning it at some point. However, Genova does make a point of finding ways Sarah is lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky her children weren't with her. Lucky she is able to do as much as she is able to.
As Genova explains at novel's end, Left Neglect is a real disability, affecting many stroke and accident victims. Not only was this a fabulous novel, it also sheds light on a condition I had not heard of. This one is highly recommended.