Inside The O'Briens
By Lisa Genova
Gallery Books April 2015
Read via Netgalley
Joe O'Brien is a police officer working outside of Boston. He is proud of his job, his community, and especially his family. He has been married to Rosie, the love of his life, for years and they have four very different grown-up children - Katie is a yoga instructor, Megan is a ballet dancer, JJ is a married firefighter, and Patrick is a bartender. Being a cop is a stressful job, so when Joe unexpectedly falls, gets angry over little things, and finds it difficult to keep his train of thought, he blames it on the job. But Joe soon learns that he has Huntington's Disease, which is 100% fatal and each child has a 50% chance of getting the degenerative illness.
I applaud Lisa Genova for shedding light on a disease that doesn't get a lot of attention. Huntington's is a horrible illness and she spares readers none of the pain. We see the frustration as Joe's body and mind refuse to do what he wants and the terror as he wonders which of his children will die in the same awful way. We watch Joe's wife and children as they are helpless to do anything to help the man they love.
This book could have easily become overly sentimental. But Genova strikes the perfect balance here. Joe, Rosie, and each of the children have to come to terms with living the life they have been given. For some of them, it will mean the knowledge of a terrible end. Others choose not to know if they have the gene for the disease. Each one of them pushes their loved ones away and then clings to them anew as they recognize the frailness of life and their familial bonds.
Inside the O'Briens is a difficult book to read, as we contemplate our own mortality along with the characters. Gigantic choices about health and the future are juxtaposed with the everyday joys and frustrations of family life. The O'Briens are a family you can't help but love as you bear witness to their most joyful days and their darkest moments.