Left Neglected is the second novel from Lisa Genova. Written in a similar tone to best-selling author Jodi Picoult, it tells the story of Sarah Nickerson, successful businesswoman and married mother-of-three from Boston.
Early in the novel the reader is warned that a life-changing event is looming. Each chapter begins with Sarah having a foreboding dream sequence. Just as she is frantic in her dream, in her real life she faces the day juggling her roles as super-mother, super-wife and super-employee. Genova portrays the frenzied dynamics of a suburban family with a relatable truth, warmth and humour. She explores the balancing act between disciplining children, marriage, teacher appointments, organising colleagues and reaching corporate deadlines.
One day Sarah reaches for her phone while driving. She takes her eyes off the road and ends up in an accident. In hospital Sarah is diagnosed with Left Neglect, a syndrome caused by damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. This damage causes a patient to lack awareness that the left side of their visual field and the left side of their body exists.
The crux of the story is how Sarah and her family deal with this change. Genova writes about this condition in order to explore it as a metaphor for all the things we are unconscious of either because we are too busy or too confronted. Genova's Neuroscience PhD shows in her medical explanations and her knowledge of hospital processes.
Sarah immediately transfers the traits of determination and drive that took her to the top of the corporate world to now succeed in her rehabilitation. Sarah views words such as
adjust to be synonymous with
give up and
Gradually Sarah takes steps to make her life practical and easier. When Sarah is in the gym she realises a poster of a fist above the word
attitude is actually a picture of two hands holding with the word
gratitude. She is starting to think differently.
The biggest shift is evident when Sarah refuses to use a sit ski and is persuaded to snowboard because she doesn't need to control her left leg.
I feel fluid and graceful and natural, she says. Genova also adds plot strands like having Sarah's son diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. This enables mother and son to bond over both having attention problems. The accident also allows Sarah to reconnect with her estranged mother.
Although the book is informative and engaging with pop cultural references to keep it realistic, all the strands tie up too neatly and Sarah's dramatic attitude change feels unlikely. This book from Genova tries to teach us about life, how a person can deal with tragedy and how to be grateful and achieve perspective. I recommend this book to people interested in psychology or disability.