I am depressed—and frightened. I am on Page 102 of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, and I’m not sure I want to go on. Alice is about to tell her grown children about her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. For the first 101 pages I’ve been asking myself, “Could I have early onset Alzheimer’s?” I forget common words (or the wrong one slips out of my mouth) all the time. I can’t count how many times I have been unable to place a familiar face (usually a neighbor’s) in an unfamiliar setting (like the supermarket), or how many times I have forgotten the names of books, movies and people. I’ve even gotten lost and disoriented a few times while out on my runs. (Okay, in fairness, that’s only happened when I’ve tried a new route, and always in the heart of Piedmont. Which, being a private enclave of “one-percenters,” is a hazy tangle of Bizarro-world roadways designed to confuse interlopers like myself.) 

But back to my original point: Should I stop reading? Fiction is supposed to be enjoyable, right? It’s not supposed to be unnerving. If a book is dampening my spirits, should I force myself go on? Part of me truly doesn’t want to, but another part feels obligated to stick it out until the bitter end. If an author’s words can derail me to such an extent—if I find a fictitious character so compelling that she forces me to contemplate demons I’d rather not face, then Genova must possess that elusive, raw talent I look for in a writer. Don’t I owe it to her, then, to hear her out? 

I guess the answer depends on what we hope to gain from our reading experience. If all we want is entertainment, then by all means, we should abandon ship when the waters get rough. But if we want a moving experience (or, heaven forbid, an enlightening one), then we must stay the course! A few people have told me they had to stop reading my first novel, Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, because it is too personal, too raw, and at times too repulsive. Then again, I’ve had others tell me that these very qualities are what makes it a page-turner.

It’s rare for me to give up on a book once I’ve started. But when I have, it was always because the author did not captivate me enough to retain my interest. I cannot punish this author for being sufficiently talented to draw me into her emotional grip, even if she is messing with my mind like a rapacious cat clawing at a captive mouse. So, I guess I will finish Lisa Genova’s book. And yes, it will cause me no small amount of fear, worry, and distress. Will I escape this unsettling experience unscathed? I seriously doubt it. Will I be richer and wiser for having endured it? I certainly hope so.