Book Review – Inside the O’Briens

Inside the O'BriensInside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
My rating: (5 / 5)

I loved this book. But then, I’ve loved every one of Lisa Genova’s books. Her writing is crisp and authentic. Her characters are brilliant and real and relatable. Her stories are heart-wrenching and make you laugh and cry and feel everything deeply.

Inside the O’Briens is the story of a family affected by Huntingtons. As one of my lovely book club ladies pointed out, the book takes you inside the O’Briens as a family, but the Huntingtons gene is what lurks inside the O’Briens, what deeply affects this family and what makes this story what it is.

Joe O’Brien is an Irish-American, Boston cop. He’s a Catholic, a family guy. He avoids drinking because his own mother fulfilled the Irish sterotype of drinking herself to death when he was a kid. He remembers her as violent and unpredictable, finishing her days away from the family in an asylum. But his life? It’s pretty great. He has good relationships with his adult kids. He has a wife that adores him. He has a job that fulfills him. But things have started to get a little weird. He has twitches. He has mood swings. Others have started to notice, and are forcing him to pay attention to it too.

I loved the characterization of the family as a whole. One of my fondest memories from my childhood was Sunday dinners at the O’Connor grandparents’ house. The cousins and aunts and uncles would be there, the food would be boiled half to death, and the love would be abundant. The Sunday dinners at the O’Brien house were so reminiscent of those days that it choked me up a bit. In fact, everything about life in an Irish-American family was pretty damn accurate.

“The ability to attach guilt firmly by the hand to any positive emotion is a skill cultivated by the Irish,”

The tenderness of the relationship between Joe and his wife, while they deal with his Huntington’s diagnosis and all that it means for himself and his family was one of my favourite parts of the book. I know about dealing with hard things as a couple – not this particular hard thing – but I know how it magnifies every part of your relationship. If what you have is good, then it magnifies that. And that’s what you see here.

“They walk together, listing and pitching, bumping off the hallway walls and each other’s hips. A drunk wife and a husband with HD. They make a fine pair. As they lurch down the hallway and finally make it to the kitchen, it occurs to Joe that this is the best anyone can hope for in life. Someone you love to stagger through the hard times with.”

There are some really heart-rending parts in this book, most particularly when Joe finds forgiveness and understanding for his mother. I loved every part of it, though the ending made me a little cross for a few hours. After a day or so of mulling it over, I came to love the ending too. It let me decide what I thought happened for the characters, and I just decided my ending was what happened. So there. And in my head, I choose to give everyone the happiest possible endings available with the questions left unanswered.

You should read this book. It’s fantastic. I finished it within 36 hours of starting it, because it was so hard to put down.

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