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All in the Family: A Review of “Inside the O’Briens” by Lisa Genova

March 13, 2015

Joe O’Brien is an Irish Catholic cop diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, which is fatal and genetic. He has a wife, Rosie, and four young adult children.

How is he going to break the news to his kids that he’s going to die of this wasting disease? What will his children do when they learn that because he has the genetic variation that causes Huntington’s, they might have it, too?

Ms. Genova opens the story with broad strokes. The O’Briens are typically Irish Catholic, and the symptoms of HD are not self-evident. Not in the early stages, with forgetfulness and clumsiness that could happen to anyone. As Joe’s HD progresses, unraveling his body, Ms. Genova weaves individuality into the characters.

Huntington’s Disease is rare, but casts a wide net. Every O’Brien is deeply affected, and forced to face life choices most people make when they are ready. Rosie, Joe’s wife, will become a widow sooner rather than later. His children have a 50% chance of inheriting Huntington’s. The family members must decide whether or not to be tested for the disease, but there are more questions. Should they have children? Should they marry? Should they pursue their dreams knowing or not knowing their fates, or should they abandon their ambitions and quietly wait to die? If they get tested, will his children be able to use the information in a manner each finds morally acceptable?

Hard choices and hard luck are stamped all over the O’Briens as Joe’s illness deepens. This is a rich, realistic story, neither sugar-coated nor maudlin. Ms. Genova brilliantly works the details into those broad brush strokes, creating a vivid picture of Hungtington’s, and transforming the O’Briens into people we know and care for.

I received a free advance copy to read from Netgalley. This review is my own creation. I received no compensation for this review.

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