There will be #nochill in this review. If this book doesn’t win all the awards, I don’t know what those people are thinking. I haven’t been so emotionally affected by a book in a long time (maybe ever?). I cried for about an hour after I finished reading and it was not a pretty cry (My mascara was halfway down my face.). Every Note Played by Lisa Genova is a beautiful, complicated, wonderful story. I will get more into how the story affected me personally, but let’s get into the review.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.
Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.
He knows his left arm will go next.
Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.
When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.
Richard is kind of an ass. His life is playing the piano. He is so focused on his career as a pianist that he completely forgets about his family and it ends up being one of the factors that leads to his divorce. Richard’s life solely involves the piano and the women that move in and out of his life. That is until he finds out he has ALS. Then all that disappears. Richard’s hands are the first thing to go and he has to give up the piano entirely. When he can’t take care of himself, he begrudgingly moves in with his wife, Karina and they learn to live with each other after hating one another for so long. Richard is an incredibly well-developed character and he goes through every emotion as he struggles with this disease. Richard is aggravating and stubborn and sweet and vulnerable and a thousand other adjectives throughout this book and it felt really special to be able to go along with him on his journey. Also, he has a home-health aid named Bill who is a pure joy! You will love Bill.
Karina has had a rough life and it didn’t get much easier after Richard and her divorced. She misses her daughter, Grace immensely when she goes away to college. She also is still living with a lot of anger toward Richard. He blames him for abandoning her for his career, while she felt she had to let go of hers to be a mother. She teaches piano from her house and besides a few friends and her daughter, she doesn’t get out much. But when a friend tells her that there are rumors that Richard has ALS, she is determined to find out for herself. While their first meeting leaves much to be desired, eventually Karina comes to see that Richard is declining rapidly and he is going to run out of money sooner rather than later. So, to probably both of their surprises, she allows him to move in with her. And needless to say, it is not easy. Not anywhere close to it. Karina becomes stuck in her house taking care of Richard at all hours of the day. She had just felt like she had gotten her independence back and now she is back to taking care of her ex-husband. But as his illness becomes worse and worse, Karina starts to understand that he was not the only one at fault for the problems in their relationship. Karina also comes to realize that maybe it’s not too late for her to restart her career and go back to the things she loved that she let go of so long ago.
Richard and Karina have quite a complicated relationship (if you couldn’t tell that by now). There is a lot of hatred between the two of them and a lot of unspoken words, but they also have a very intense history of similar interests and love. They grew apart, stopped talking to each other, neglected each other, and then grew to dislike each other so much it turned into hatred. But then they are presented with this tragic situation. Richard gets ALS and has no one to take care of him, or at least no one he isn’t paying. At first, he doesn’t tell anyone. But once people find out, specifically, Karina, the ex-couple have to live under the same roof and Karina becomes the prime caregiver. While she never refuses to do the work, she comes to resent it (which, from my experience, seems to be a common part/stage of being a caregiver to someone, even if you love them). While they end up coming to a place that is much better than where they started, the disease is always prevalent in their relationship.
While there are other characters I could talk about, I really want to talk about Richard’s relationship with ALS. The disease felt like another character, like the antagonist almost. While Richard isn’t always the most likable character, I always felt like shit everytime the disease takes something else from him. And with the way the story is written, switching between Richard and Karina’s point of view, by the time we get back to Richard’s POV he has lost another part of his body to the disease. It is purely astonishing how Lisa Genova shows us the deterioration of the body through this character. Each time we get back to Richard’s POV is like a shot to the gut because you don’t want him to lose anymore, you don’t want him to die. We meet Richard when he is just beginning to feel the symptoms of ALS. His right hand doesn’t work anymore. And going through everything on both sides of that journey, Richard’s and Karina’s, makes you feel a small part of what it must be like for people and families to go through this every day. It’s really fucked up that anyone has to go through this.
I have never really had a reaction to a story like I had with this one. Like I said, I sobbed for about an hour. The story deals with forgiveness and that is something I have been trying to figure out myself for the past year. How to forgive, what to forgive, if I should. This story put that into a different light or maybe just made it clearer for me, and that caused all the emotions to come up. Of course, I was crying for the characters and the situation they were in, but I think I was also crying for loss, and heartbreak, and all the things in life that are unfair. Lisa Genova’s story really made me think about things that I usually keep on the back burner in my mind. She has written such a beautiful, bittersweet story.
If it wasn’t obvious by now that I am in love with this book, I don’t know what more I can say. On a scale of 5 stars, I am giving Every Note Played 5 stars. It was brilliantly written with expertly developed characters that I connected to almost immediately. Please go buy this book when it comes out. And, if you can, please donate to ALS ONE. They are an organization looking for a cure for ALS and trying to give people with ALS better care.
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova comes out March 20, 2018.
Thank you, NetGalley and Gallery/Scout Press for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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