Love Anthony – Lisa Genova
By – Sheri de Grom
Olivia Donatelli’s dream of a normal life is shattered when her son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Understanding the world from Anthony’s perspective felt bewildering and nearly impossible to Olivia. He didn’t speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. Just as Olivia was starting to realize that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died at age ten.
Beth Ellis’ life changed with a casual walk to the mailbox. A note she retrieved and innocently opened read, “I’m sleeping with Jimmy.” Beth and Jimmy had been married fourteen years and have three daughters. Beth never felt so alone.
Love Anthony is told in alternating chapters devoted to the lives of Olivia and Beth. Each page drew me deeper into the women’s lives. I wanted to make everything right for them but I couldn’t. I rushed to read further.
Olivia couldn’t stay in the same house where she’d lived with David and where Anthony’s things were. It hurt too much. She was going insane and losing touch with reality.
Olivia and her husband David separated and she retreated to the summer home they’d bought on Nantucket years before. They’d originally bought the house as an investment when they’d been on vacation to the island. Later they’d decided to keep the house for their summer home. They’d decided that before Anthony was born. Olivia didn’t care that it was winter on Nantucket.
. . . Pg 18 [She brought her clothes, her jewelry, her camera, and her computer. And she brought her journals. Someday she’ll have the courage to read them.]
Olivia’s emotions are razor sharp raw. She’s every woman who’s lost a child and has no idea how to pick up the pieces of her life. She repeatedly touches the smooth white round rocks Anthony loved to collect in threes. She can’t bear to interact with others. A step in the wrong direction has the potential to turn her inside out, make her cry, hide, scream, curse God, stop breathing, go insane. Any and all of the emotions roll over her at once.
Olivia is so detached from herself she isn’t aware winter is over and that spring has arrived. Daffodils are blooming everywhere. She’s aware of the crowds when she goes into town. She’d forgotten the annual daffodil festival. In her past life, it had been a favorite time for her and David, before Anthony.
She’s unable to reach out to David. He’s still in Boston in the home where they lived with Anthony. She can’t make herself go there.
. . . Pg 75 [The pervasive gray surrounding her hasn’t lifted; it’s still winter in her heart. She feels that she’s witnessing her life more than she’s actually living it, this woman who lives on Nantucket, drinks coffee, reads her journals, goes for walks, and takes pictures, as if she were watching a movie, a boring movie about a boring woman where nothing much happens, a movie she’d like to shut off or change to a different channel, but for some reason, she’s glued to the screen. If she keeps watching, something will happen.]. . .
Summer arrives on the island and Olivia needs to earn a living. She doesn’t want to return to work for the publisher she worked for before Anthony was born. She does however turn her avocation for photography into her profession. Soon her summer calendar is filled with appointments for family beach portraits.
David makes an unannounced visit to the island. He wants to tell Olivia he’s selling their home in Boston and moving to Chicago.
. . . Pg 121 David tells her, [“I’ve gotta go somewhere new, where I don’t see you and Anthony in every room. If I even walk by his bedroom, I’m done for the day. It’s awful. And it’s not just the house, it’s everyone. My parents and Doug, they all talk to me in that sad, careful voice and look at me with worried eyes, and it’s what I would probably do if I were them, but I can’t take it anymore. I can’t be that sad guy all the time, you know?”]. . .
Olivia continues to question herself and her life moves forward. She reads from her journals and asks God that age old question: Why?
The entire time Olivia is searching her soul for answers, Beth wants answers to another age old question. What is the purpose of her past and her continuing existence?
Olivia and Beth pass each other almost daily. The reader knows they will eventually meet but Lisa Genova brilliantly keeps the women apart while they struggle with the questions that haunt them.
Beth could have tossed the note from the anonymous woman into the fireplace and pretend she’d never received it. Pretend she’d never read those words, “P.S. He loves me.”
But avoidance isn’t Beth’s style and the reader understands this character trait before Beth’s emotions and actions are laid bare on the page.
. . . Pg 12 [A swirl of unexpected emotion courses through her. She feels fear and fury, panic and humiliation. She feels nauseous, like she’s going to be sick. But what she doesn’t feel is surprised.
She closes the gate. With the card and envelope squeezed in her fist, she marches up the stairs, emphasizing each loud step as she heads toward Jimmy’s snoring.]. . .
Beth can’t stop herself from hammering Jimmy with questions about the affair he openly admits and the more questions she asks, the more he tells her.
Beth is further stunned when she tells Jimmy she thinks he should move out and he agrees.
She questions her every action. Does Jimmy want to leave her and the girls? Has he wanted to tell her and now he doesn’t have to? Nantucket is a small island. Who else knows?
. . . Pg 25 [In the laundry room, she carefully measures out the detergent. The engine of Jimmy’s truck turns. She pours the liquid fabric softener into the dispenser. He backs out of the driveway. She turns the dial to sheets and presses start. His truck shifts into first gear and rumbles down the street. She watches the hot water pour into their bedding. Steam fills the barrel of the washing machine. Everything begins to spin.]. . .
Beth attempts to keep home life as normal as possible for the girls. They know their dad doesn’t live at home but the details surrounding the reason why are purposely left out of conversations.
Beth’s friends persuade her that she must have a night out with the girls. She finally agrees but doesn’t think about what she’ll wear until it’s time to get dressed. Reality hits. There’s nothing in her closet that’ll do for dinner and drinks.
I would have gone shopping long before this point. It tells a lot about Beth, the woman, that she hadn’t really considered what she was going to wear when she was supposed to be all dressed up and looking her sexist while having dinner and drinks at the very place where Jimmy is the head bartender and his lover, the hostess.
Beth heads to the attic and discovers a dress she’d worn way back when. Back when days with Jimmy seemed perfect and they were in love.
There’s an even greater find in the attic. Beth discovers her old notebooks, poems, short stories, and her many unfinished vignettes. It’s time to take her ‘put away’ writing downstairs along with the long-ago dress.
Beth’s daughters attend summer camp and she goes to the library daily. She sits at the same table everyday in the same chair and writes. The words come faster than she can type or write. Often she feels as though someone is dictating what she’s writing.
On the few days that Beth arrives at the library and someone is already in her chair at her table, she’s convinced she can’t write. That’s her chair, her special place. How dare someone else be there?
Each summer, Beth and Jimmy plus the girls have a family beach photo taken. The girls are upset but this year the photo will include the family dog but not their father. Olivia is the photographer.
Olivia and Beth are two unforgettable women on the edge of change and the events in their lives give them the courage to move on.
I believed Lisa Genova couldn’t top her debut novel, Still Alice. If you haven’t read Still Alice, do. In it, Genova explores early onset Alzheimer’s. The novel is a masterpiece of educational information folded into a brilliant work of fiction.
Genova’s second novel, Left Neglect, addresses one possible effect of traumatic brain injury. In her third novel, Still Anthony, takes a look at autism. Lisa Genova’s universal themes of friendship, marital strife and understanding the meaning of life thread through each of her novels. The stories are about a different and timely medical issue and her characters come alive around the toughest of healthcare conditions.
I unconditionally recommend Love Anthony by Lisa Genova and will be surprised if it doesn’t make my top ten lists for 2013! The novel is that good.