Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

13547381Fiction — print. Gallery Books, 2012. 309 pgs. Library copy.

Olivia arrives on the island of Nantucket unsure of how to move forward after the death of her eight-year-old severely autistic son, Anthony, and the unraveling of her marriage to Daniel. Year-round resident, Beth, is struggling to find her artistic voice and adapt to being a single mother after a card arrives in her mailbox informing her of her husband’s infidelity. Although she only met Anthony briefly on the beaches of Nantucket five years ago and never learned his name, Beth finds herself channeling his voice and his ticks as she writes her very first novel.

I’ve only read one book by Genova before but what keeps her books from being shelves amongst breezier, chick-lit reads is her mastery interjection of neurology and science into the story. While she is one of the few authors who manages to capture the uniqueness of autism with this book, Genova lost her scientific credentials, in my opinion, right after Olivia explained how her son was fine until he received his vacations and how guilty she felt then (and, presumably, feels now) for insisting he have his shots. I’m more than willing to accept the rather unbelievable idea that the spirit or ghost of Olivia’s uncommunicative son would speak through, or to, a woman he has met only once, but I cannot tolerate even the suggestion that vaccinations lead to autism and only finished this book because it was selected by my book group for our September meeting.

There is no compelling reason to include Beth in the novel other than her being a mode of communication for Anthony. She is not an interesting character, and there is nothing unique to her story. Whether or not she allows her estranged husband back into her life is her business; I could care less. She, her friends, her husband, and her children are all wooden and riddle with clichés – the cheating husband, the sullen teenager, the serial dater who encourages Beth to go spy on the woman whom her husband cheated with. Shouldn’t Beth’s three kids have more to say about their father moving out? How can their mother so easily gloss over such a big event? Shouldn’t the cheating husband who wants his wife back be inclined not to joke or laugh or touch his mistress in front of his wife? How can he not realize his wife isn’t going to take him back then?

The ending caused many of women in my book group to cry, but I turned the last page feeling emotionally manipulated by Genova in the hopes of garnishing such reactions. The most disappointing aspect of the entire novel for me, though, was how lost Anthony becomes in the novel. The sections “written” by him could have made a beautiful book on their own or combined with Olivia’s journal, but he was unfortunately used as a device to “save” an entirely superfluous character making his life all the more tragic.


    • Genova mentioned two books about people on the spectrum — The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and House Rules by Jodi Picoult — in this novel. I’ve read the later but hadn’t heard of Haddon’s book before so I’m curious to try that one now.


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