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Left NeglectedReview - Left Neglected
A Novel
by Lisa Genova
Gallery Books, 2011
Review by Mary Daniels Brown
Apr 3rd 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 14)

Sarah Nickerson has it all: a Harvard business degree, a high-power position in a global consulting company, a loving husband, three young children, a house in an affluent Boston suburb, and a weekend home in Vermont. She’s also doing it all: taking frequent international business trips, studying spreadsheets, attending to business meetings and conference calls in multiple time zones, and shuttling the kids to school, day care, piano lessons, and soccer practice. She’s a champion multitasker who knows how to make the most of every hectic minute--until one day when a quick glance at her cell phone while she’s driving to work causes an accident that puts Sarah into the hospital with an injury to the right side of her head.

When Sarah regains consciousness, her nurse soon realizes that Sarah’s head injury has caused left neglect, a condition in which the brain is unaware of what’s on the left side of anything. Left neglect is not blindness, since the visual areas of the brain still function. But the brain does not process input from the left side of the visual field. This condition means Sarah can’t see someone standing to her left and doesn’t realize there’s food on the left side of her plate. Left neglect also makes Sarah unaware of the left side of her own body, and she is unable to see or control her left arm and leg.

To recover Sarah must learn how to find the missing left half: “What used to be automatic and entirely behind the scenes--seeing the world as whole and seamless--is now a painstaking and deliberate process of trying to reel a disconnected left into consciousness. Look left. Scan left. Go left. It sounds simple enough, but how do I look, scan, or go to a place that doesn’t exist to my mind?” (p. 128).

At first Sarah assumes that she will recover fully from the injury and return to work as before. After all, her competitive, type A personality has always allowed her to accomplish whatever she put her mind to. But gradually she comes to realize that she can’t simply will her mind and body into submission. A further complication arrives in the person of Sarah’s mother, who is determined to help out during Sarah’s rehabilitation period. The two have had a strained relationship ever since the childhood death of Sarah’s brother, which left their mother emotionally devastated and distanced from her daughter. At the same time that Sarah learns to accept her new physical limitations, she also comes to accept and appreciate her mother’s help.

In a novel that focuses primarily on Sarah’s rehabilitation, the ending occurs abruptly. This strategy is effective in compressing the inevitable outcome: Sarah’s realization and acceptance of the necessity of making changes in her life. In an ending that would have become melodramatic if extended, Sarah learns to concentrate on what she can do rather than on what she can’t. She also comes to recognize and appreciate other aspects of her life--aspects that, before, she had left neglected.

 

 

© 2012 Mary Daniels Brown

 

 

 

Mary Daniels Brown completed the coursework for a doctorate in English and American literature before shifting gears and receiving her doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. She regularly writes and blogs about books and reading at Notes in the Margin: http://notesinthemargin.org

 


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