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Left Neglected neglects appeal and originality

‘Left Neglected'

Written by: Lisa Genova

Price: $24.99

Rating: Two out of five bookmarks



One of the things I love about writing book reviews is I can encourage people to pick up a literary treasure they would have passed over or never heard about. That is why I feel a little disappointed I’m essentially telling readers not to bother with this week’s novel. And it is particularly disappointing that it is from an author whose first novel was such a success and so highly praised.

Lisa Genova’s debut novel, "Still Alice," was a beloved bestseller, but her follow-up novel, "Left Neglected," is a book that should be, well, left neglected on the bookshelf.

Sarah Nickerson is your typical working mother, trying to balance the demanding hours of her job, time at home with her family, and all of her children’s school activities and parent-teacher meetings. Even though her husband does his best to help with the workload, Sarah is becoming overwhelmed by her manic life — until a car accident lands her in the hospital with an unusual physical anomaly.

A traumatic blow to her head has given her a condition called Left Neglect, meaning she can no longer recognize anything on her left (she is not paralyzed or blind on her left side, she literally cannot remember or understand what "left" is).

As she struggles through physical therapy to relearn how to do even the simplest tasks, she begins to reassess what is important in her life, and gains a better understanding of what her family needs and what she needs to become a stronger person.

This book is another example of taking what should be an intriguing idea and executing it in the most cliché and tedious manner. The only interesting aspect of the story is the concept of Left Neglect, which Genova does a good job of describing the condition so we understand what Sarah is going through.

The rest of the novel, however, is a story we have heard before: Our main character is overworked, overstressed and missing out on her husband and kids, and only through an unexpected incident is she forced to slow down and rediscover what is truly meaningful.

Throw in a couple more clichés, like how the protagonist is unable to truly "see" the big picture until she is incapable of literally seeing the whole picture, and the return of Sarah’s estranged mother causes Sarah to face her buried bitterness, and she learns to forgive her mother for not being there for her as a child.

I don’t necessarily mind plot elements that I may have read or watched on screen before; there are only so many plotlines in the world so some are bound to repeat themselves. But "Left Neglected" offers nothing new when it comes to the character development (although I did like the husband and his patient devotedness).

All the characters were predictable and gave no new revelations into the human spirit or psyche — which, given the theme of the book, should have explored this ground more deeply. Also, the pacing of this novel drags on about as lethargically as Sarah’s process of rehabilitation.

Since we are setup with such a standard beginning and familiar character types, you would think the main plot would get going at a relatively crisp rate. Instead, the reader must slog through six chapters of Sarah’s day-to-day life before even getting to the first plot point. Maybe this is another example of the book’s lesson about perseverance, seeing if we’ll hang in long enough to get through the book (although I doubt it).

"Left Neglected" is an adequately written novel, but after many of the books I have read recently in which authors have demonstrated very powerful writing and verbal imagery, this one seemed rambling and uninspired, and thus pretty forgettable.

For the patient reader who doesn’t mind reading an archetypal story about overcoming adversity — maybe a career mom who wants a character to identify with — you might find something to take away from "Left Neglected." Otherwise, this is a story that can be left behind by most readers.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? E-mail her to tell her about it.