Desert Isle Keeper
Every Note Played
For the past ten years or so, I’ve been in awe of Lisa Genova’s ability to dig into a medical issue and accurately, sensitively portray its effect on a family. In her latest novel, Every Note Played, Ms. Genova turns her attention to ALS, and spins a heartbreaking story of redemption, love, and loss.
Eight months ago, Richard was living the high life as a celebrated concert pianist, capable of playing even the most difficult pieces of music with deep emotion and a near perfect attention to technical detail. He traveled the world, performing in some of the most prestigious concert halls, sharing his gift with countless devoted fans. But now, things are frighteningly different, and he’s not sure how he’s going to cope. You see, Richard has been diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative disease that will eventually rob him of the ability to move, speak, and breathe on his own.
It starts with his right arm, and Richard is forced to cancel his upcoming concert tour. He spends his days alone in his house, struggling to play the piano with just his left hand. He knows his days of being able to do this much are numbered, and he wants to enjoy every note for as long as possible.
It’s been three years since Karina removed the picture of her and Richard on their wedding day from her living room wall. Life as the wife of a man like Richard wasn’t easy, but Karina isn’t finding life as his ex much better. She spends her days teaching piano to local children and dreaming of being a jazz musician, a passion she gave up in order to help Richard build his own musical career. Her friends tell her she needs to let go of the bitterness she feels toward Richard, and while she knows they’re right, she finds this to be a lot easier said than done.
When she learns of Richard’s diagnosis, Karina isn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, she’s sorry for him, but there’s another part that secretly delights in seeing him brought low. He wasn’t always a kind or loving husband. In fact, there were times he was downright cruel, and Karina finds herself wondering if this illness is the universe’s way of making him pay for his misdeeds.
Richard’s condition rapidly worsens until he is unable to live on his own any longer. Karina reluctantly allows him to move back into the home they once shared, and she begins taking care of his every need. Richard doesn’t always accept Karina’s help gracefully, and there are times she regrets her decision to help him, but underneath it all, she’s a kind and caring woman who can’t stand the thought of the man she once loved struggling on his own. So, Karina continues to care for Richard and learns a great deal about herself along the way. The lessons aren’t always easy, but they’re necessary if she ever hopes to pick up the pieces of her own life after Richard passes on.
Every Note Played broke my heart more times than I thought possible. Ms. Genova is a gifted storyteller, and her ability to make readers feel strong emotions is one of her greatest strengths. I’m usually emotionally invested in the books I read, but there’s something special about the way this novel touched my heart and soul.
It’s obvious the author did a lot of research into ALS and the various ways it affects people, both those who have been diagnosed with it and those who love and care for them. I don’t have personal experience with the disease, but I have read quite a bit about the subject, and I found the medical information the author includes to be quite accurate. Sometimes, when reading a book like this, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a load of medical jargon that isn’t explained well, but that wasn’t the case here. Ms. Genova weaves the necessary information into the story in a way that is really easy to relate to and understand.
I struggled with Richard’s character throughout the story, and I think that’s exactly what the author wants readers to do. As his illness worsens, Richard is forced to think back on his life, and some of those memories do not paint him in the most positive of lights. Yet all this introspection doesn’t cause him to turn into a saint overnight. He’s still incredibly self-centered at times, and there were a few occasions I wanted to see Karina set him straight. Even so, I found myself feeling empathy for him as he comes to terms with his life and eventual death.
One of the best parts of the story is watching Karina come into her own. Early on in the book, she’s not all that sure of her own worth, and it was wonderful to see her grow in confidence as the story progressed. She doesn’t have things completely figured out by the novel’s end, but you can tell she’s well on her way, and that’s exactly the kind of growth I love to see.
I wholeheartedly recommend Every Note Played to both established fans of Ms. Genova’s work as well as to those who are picking up one of her books for the first time. Just remember to have plenty of tissues handy as you read it.