From bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova—whose novel Still Alice is now an Academy Award-winning film starring Julianne Moore—comes a novel about autism, friendship, and unconditional love. Look for Lisa Genova's latest novel, Inside the O’Briens, available now.
In an insightful, deeply human story reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Daniel Isn’t Talking, and The Reason I Jump, Lisa Genova offers a unique perspective in fiction—the extraordinary voice of Anthony, a nonverbal boy with autism. Anthony reveals a neurologically plausible peek inside the mind of autism, why he hates pronouns, why he loves swinging and the number three, how he experiences routine, joy, and love. In this powerfully unforgettable story, Anthony teaches two women about the power of friendship and helps them to discover the universal truths that connect us all.
Beth is alone in her house, listening to the storm, wondering what to do next. To be fair, she’s not really alone. Jimmy is upstairs sleeping. But she feels alone. It’s ten in the morning, and the girls are at school, and Jimmy will sleep until at least noon. She’s curled up on the couch, sipping hot cocoa from her favorite blue mug, watching the fire in the fireplace, and listening.
Rain and sand spray against the windows like an enemy attacking. Wind chimes gong repetitive, raving-mad music, riding gusts from some distant neighbor’s yard. The wind howls like a desperately mournful animal. A desperately mournful wild animal. Winter storms on Nantucket are wild. Wild and violent. They used to scare her, but that was years ago when she was new to this place.
The radiator hisses. Jimmy snores.
She has already done the laundry, the girls won’t be home for several hours, and it’s too early yet to start dinner. She’s grateful she did the grocery shopping yesterday. The whole house needs to be vacuumed, but she’ll wait until after Jimmy is up. He didn’t get home from work until after 2:00 a.m.
She wishes she had the book for next month’s book club. She keeps forgetting to stop by the library to check it out. This month’s book was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It was a quick read, a murder mystery narrated by an autistic teenage boy. She liked it and was especially fascinated by the main character’s strange inner world, but she hopes the next one will be a bit lighter. They typically choose more serious literature for book club, but she could use a pleasant escape into a hot summer romance right about now. They all could.
A loud bang against the back of the house startles her. Grover, their black Lab, lifts his head from where he’s been sleeping on the braided rug.
“It’s okay, Grove. It’s just Daddy’s chair.”
Knowing a big storm was on its way, she told Jimmy to take his chair in last night before he left for work. It’s his “cigar-smoking” chair. One of the summer residents left it on the side of the road in September with a sign taped to it that read FREE, and Jimmy couldn’t resist it. The thing is trash. It’s a cedar Adirondack chair. In most places on Earth, that chair could weather a lifetime, but on Nantucket, the salty, humid air eventually degrades everything but the densest man-made composite materials. Everything needs to be extraordinarily tough to survive here. And probably more than a little dense.
Jimmy’s moldy, corroded chair belongs at the dump or at least in the garage, as Beth wisely suggested last night. But instead, the wind has just lifted it off the ground and heaved it against the house. She thinks about getting up and hauling the chair into the garage herself, but then she thinks better of it. Maybe the storm will smash it to pieces. Of course, even if this happens, Jimmy will just find some other chair to sit in while he smokes his smelly cigars.
She sits and tries to enjoy her cocoa, the storm, and the fire, but the impulse to get up and do something nags at her. She can’t think of anything useful to do. She walks over to the fireplace mantel and picks up the wedding picture of Jimmy and her. Mr. and Mrs. James Ellis. Fourteen years ago. Her hair was longer and blonder then. And her skin was flawless. No pores, no spots, no wrinkles. She touches her thirty-eight-year-old cheek and sighs. Jimmy looks gorgeous. He still does, mostly.
She studies his smile in the photo. He has a slight overbite, and his eyeteeth jut forward a touch. When she met him, she thought his imperfect teeth added to his charm, lending just enough to his rugged good looks without making him look like a hillbilly. He has a self-assured, mischievous, full-out grin for a smile, the kind that makes people—women—put forth considerable effort to be the reason for it.
But his teeth have started to bug her. The way he picks at them with his tongue after he eats. The way he chews his food with his mouth open. The way his eyeteeth stick out. She sometimes finds herself staring at them while he talks, wishing he’d shut his mouth. They’re pearly white in this wedding photograph, but now they’re more caramel- than cream-colored, abused by years of daily coffee and those smelly cigars.
His once beautiful teeth. Her once beautiful skin. His annoying habits. She has them, too. She knows her nagging drives him crazy. This is what happens when people get older, when they’re married for fourteen years. She smiles at Jimmy’s smile in the picture, then replaces it on the mantel a little to the left of where it was before. She takes a step back. She purses her lips and eyes the length of the mantel.
Their fireplace mantel is a six-foot-long, single piece of driftwood hung over the hearth. They found it washed up on the shore one night on Surfside Beach during that first summer. Jimmy picked it up and said, We’re hanging this over the fireplace in our house someday. Then he kissed her, and she believed him. They’d only known each other for a few weeks.
Three pictures are on the mantel, all in matching weathered, white frames—one of Grover when he was six weeks old on the left, Beth and Jimmy in the middle, and a beach portrait of Sophie, Jessica, and Gracie in white shirts and floral, pink peasant skirts on the right. It was taken just after Gracie’s second birthday, eight years ago.
“Where does the time go?” she says aloud to Grover.
A huge, peach starfish that Sophie found out by Sankaty Lighthouse flanks the Beth-and-Jimmy picture on the left, and a perfect nautilus shell, also huge and without a single chip or crack, flanks the Beth-and-Jimmy picture on the right. Beth found the nautilus shell out on Great Point the year she married Jimmy, and she protected it vigilantly through three moves. She’s picked up hundreds of nautilus shells since and has yet to find another one without a flaw. This is always the arrangement on the mantel. Nothing else is allowed there.
She adjusts her wedding picture again, slightly to the right, and steps back. There. That’s better. Perfectly centered. Everything as it should be.
Now what? She’s on her feet, feeling energized.
“Come on, Grover. Let’s go get the mail.”
Outside, she immediately regrets the idea. The wind whips through her heartiest “windproof” winter coat as if it were a sieve. Chills tumble down her spine, and the cold feels like it’s worming its way deep into her bones. The rain is coming at her sideways, slapping her in the face, making it difficult to keep her eyes open enough to see where they’re going. Poor Grover, who was warm and happy and asleep a few moments ago, whimpers.
“Sorry, Grove. We’ll be home in a minute.”
The mailboxes are about a half mile away. Beth’s neighborhood is inhabited by a smattering of year-rounders and summer residents, but mostly summer people live on her route to the mail. So this time of year, the houses are empty and dark. There are no lights on in the windows, no smoke billowing from the chimneys, no cars parked in the driveways. Everything is lifeless. And gray. The sky, the earth, the weathered cedar shingles on every empty, dark house, the ocean, which she can’t see now but can smell. It’s all gray. She never gets used to this. The tedious grayness of winter on Nantucket is enough to unravel the most unshakable sanity. Even the proudest natives, the people who love this island the most, question themselves in March.
Why the hell do we live on this godforsaken spit of gray sand?
Spring, summer, and fall are different. Spring brings the yellow daffodils, summer brings the Mykonos-blue sky, fall brings the rusty-red cranberry bogs. And they all bring the tourists. Sure, the tourists come with their downsides. But they come. Life! After Christmas Stroll in December, they all leave. They return to mainland America and beyond, to places that have such things as McDonald’s and Staples and BJ’s and businesses that are open past January. And color. They have color.
COLD, WET, AND miserable, she arrives at the row of gray mailboxes lining the side of the road, opens the door to her box, pulls out three pieces of mail, and quickly shoves them inside her coat to protect them from the rain.
“C’mon, Grover. Home!”
They turn around and begin retracing their route. With the rain and wind pushing behind her now, she’s able to look up to see where she’s going instead of mostly down at her feet. Ahead of them in the distance, someone is walking toward them. She wonders who it could be.
As they get closer, she figures out that the person is a woman. Most of Beth’s friends live mid-island. Jill lives in Cisco, which isn’t too far from here, but in the other direction, toward the ocean, and this woman is too short to be Jill. She’s wearing a hat, a scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth, a parka, and boots. It would be hard to recognize anyone in that getup in this weather, but surely, Beth must know who it is. There are only so many people who would be out walking in this neighborhood in this weather on a Thursday in March. There are no weekenders or day-trippers out for a stroll on Nantucket today.
They’re a few yards apart now, but Beth still can’t identify her. She can only see that the woman’s hair is long and black. Beth prepares to say Hello, and she’s already smiling when the woman is directly in front of her, but the woman is fixated on the ground, refusing eye contact. So Beth doesn’t say Hello, and she feels sheepish for smiling. Grover wanders over for a sniff, but the woman skirts by too quickly and is then behind them before Beth or Grover can learn anything more about her.
Still curious after a few steps, Beth looks back over her shoulder and sees the woman at the row of mailboxes, toward the far end.
“Probably a New Yorker,” she mutters as she turns around and presses on toward home.
Safe inside, Grover shakes himself, sending water everywhere. She’d normally scold him for doing this, but it doesn’t matter. Just opening the door splashed a bucket’s worth of water into the mudroom. She removes her hat and coat, and the mail falls to the ground. She kicks off her boots. She’s soaked through.
She peels off her wet socks and jeans, tosses them into the laundry room, and slips into a pair of fleece pajama bottoms and a pair of slippers. Feeling warmer and drier and immediately happier, she returns to the front door to collect the mail from the floor, then walks back to the couch. Grover has returned to the braided rug.
The first piece of mail is the heating bill, which will probably be more than their monthly mortgage payment. She decides to open it later. The next is a Victoria’s Secret catalog. She ordered one push-up bra three Christmases ago, and they still keep sending her catalogs. She’ll toss it into the fire. The last piece of mail is an envelope hand-addressed to her. She opens it. It’s a card with a birthday cake pictured on the front.
May all your wishes come true.
Huh, that’s strange, she thinks. Her birthday isn’t until October.
Inside, the words Happy Birthday have been crossed out with a single, confident ballpoint blue line. Below it, someone has written:
I’m sleeping with Jimmy.
PS. He loves me.
It takes her a few seconds to reread it, to make sure she’s comprehending the words. She’s aware of her heart pounding as she picks up the envelope again. Who sent this? There’s no return address, but the postmark is stamped from Nantucket. She doesn’t recognize the handwriting. The penmanship is neat and loopy, a woman’s. Another woman’s.
Holding the envelope in one hand and the card in the other, she looks up at the fireplace mantel, at her perfectly centered wedding picture, and swallows. Her mouth has gone dry.
She gets up and walks to the fireplace. She slides the iron screen aside. She tosses the Victoria’s Secret catalog onto the fire and watches the edges curl and blacken as it burns and turns to gray ash. Gone. Her hands are shaking. She clenches the envelope and card. If she burns them now, she can pretend she never saw them. This never existed.
A swirl of unexpected emotion courses through her. She feels fear and fury, panic and humiliation. She feels nauseous, like she’s going to be sick. But what she doesn’t feel is surprised.
She closes the gate. With the card and envelope squeezed in her fist, she marches up the stairs, emphasizing each loud step as she heads toward Jimmy’s snoring.
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This reading group guide forLove Anthonyincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Genova. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Love Anthony is the latest novel from the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Left Neglected, about an accidental friendship forged between two women on a Nantucket beach; a friendship that provides peace to one, validation to the other. Olivia is a thirty-something mother whose eight-year-old, nonverbal autistic son has recently died. With her marriage badly strained by years of stress, she has come to the island recently separated, trying to understand the purpose of her son’s short life. Beth, a stay-at-home mother of three already living on Nantucket, is also recently separated after discovering her husband's infidelity. In an attempt to recapture a sense of her long-lost independence, she rekindles her passion for writing, determined to discover her identity again. But surprisingly, as she uncovers her own voice, Beth also finds herself channeling the voice of an unknown boy, a voice that will give both women the comfort and answers they need.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. How much did you know about this condition before starting Love Anthony? Do you know anyone who has autism or an autistic person in their family?
2. What significance does the setting of Nantucket play in this story? Would the story have been different if it had taken place in New York City or Chicago?
3. Beth pulls a box out of her attic, filled with remnants from her old life, and is reminded of the woman she once was. If you were to go through a box from your attic, what items might you find?
4. On the subject of marriage and fidelity, Beth’s friend Courtney muses: “You’re always at the mercy of the people you’re in a relationship with, right?” (p. 171) Do you agree? What do you think of the advice she offers Beth?
5. Do you think the author accurately captured the voice of a young autistic boy in the Anthony chapters? Did these sections enhance Beth’s story for you? What about Olivia’s journal entries?
6. After receiving David’s letter about his impending engagement, Olivia ponders the concept of happiness: “He’s right. I forgot about happiness. At first, it wasn’t a priority. Anthony had autism, and every ounce of energy went into saving him. Her happiness was irrelevant….And then, just when she was starting to realize that happiness and autism could co-exist in the same room, in the same sentence, in her heart, Anthony died, and happiness was no longer a concept she could fathom.” (p. 283) Do you think happiness is a conscious choice? Do you find it telling that Olivia uses the phrase “saving him” in reference to Anthony and his autism?
7. Toward the end of the story, Olivia has an epiphany when she realizes that “There was more to Anthony’s life than his death. And there was more to Anthony than his autism.” (p. 283) What do you think finally enables Olivia to have this realization? Was it a singular event or a process?
8. When Jimmy and Beth share their homework assignments given to them by Dr. Campbell, were you surprised by Beth’s initial reaction? Why is forgiving Jimmy the one thing Beth can’t do?
9. After reading Beth’s novel, Olivia is convinced Anthony is speaking to her through Beth. Skeptical, Beth discusses the idea with the more spiritual Petra, who feels “we’re all connected, even if we don’t know how. Maybe communicating through you gives you the something you need in this lifetime.” (p. 308) Do you agree or disagree with Petra?
10. Through writing her book, Beth realizes “this story was more about Anthony the boy than Anthony the boy with autism… she was simply writing about Anthony, a boy worthy of happiness and safety, of feeling wanted and loved. Just like her. The more she wrote about Anthony, the more she realized that she was actually writing about herself.” (p. 331) How so?
11. Beth ultimately decides the lesson of her book is “Find someone to love and love without condition.” (p.332) Do you think this could also apply as an overall theme for Love Anthony? Can you find any others?
12. Which character did you relate to the most and why? Where do you see these characters in five years?
13. What do you think of Beth’s epilogue? Do you think it provides a satisfying ending to her story? To the novel as a whole?
14. Another recurring theme of Love Anthony is faith – having faith, losing faith, and taking a leap of faith. Can you remember a time in your own life when you took a leap of faith?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit the website http://www.autismspeaks.org to learn more about autism and different fundraising or awareness-raising events your book club can participate in.
2. The author is a keen public speaker and tours often with her books. Check out the author’s website, to see if she’s speaking near you: http://lisagenova.com/
3. When out at Salt with her friends, Jimmy makes Beth a special drink—a Hot Passion Martini. Why not concoct a signature drink (with or without alcohol) for your book club gathering? Why not invent a ‘Nantucket Knockout?’
A Conversation with Lisa Genova
1. You have said that Oliver Sacks, along with your grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s inspired you to pen Still Alice. Was there a particular person in mind when you started Love Anthony?
This book began with Anthony, a boy with autism who doesn’t speak, inspired by my cousin’s beautiful autistic son, Anthony. My cousin and I are close, and my oldest daughter and Anthony are the same age. We spent much of their baby and early childhood years together. So, as with Still Alice, this story sprang from a deeply personal place.
2. What kind of research did you undertake for this novel?
I did a lot of research on autism for this novel. I read as many books, blogs, and research articles as I could both before and while I was writing Love Anthony—from fiction to memoir to clinical texts. A list of the books I read can be found at my website. I interviewed physicians, behavioral therapists, an EMT, and people who’ve experienced seizures. The most important research involved talking with parents of children (age 3-17) with autism. These conversations were intensely personal, raw, honest, and generous. I can’t thank these parents enough for what they shared with me.
I also spent a lot of time researching the island of Nantucket. This involved reading many books about the island, interviewing people who live there (natives, summer people, and wash-ashores), and hopping the high speed ferry from Cape Cod to Nantucket as many times as I could throughout the year.
3. Did you intend to make it a two-fold story (two characters whose lives intersect) or did that come organically?
This was the intention from the beginning. I did this for two reasons. One, both for the child who has it and for the families who love and advocate for them, autism can be incredibly isolating. When I talked with parents and professionals who know autism, I repeatedly heard the same words – isolated, disconnected, solitary, alone. While isolation is a very real aspect of living with autism, and I certainly needed to portray this in the book, I wanted to show people connecting (lives intersecting) through autism. Second, much of the focus on autism, especially among people who aren’t all that familiar with it (like Beth at first), is on all the ways that autistic children are different from typical children. The focus is on what is strange or abnormal or even tragic. Again, that is there, but I also wanted to shed light on what is the same among all of us, whether you have autism or not. How do we connect as human beings with each other? Are we all capable of this? What happens when we can’t or won’t or give up on connecting? What happens when we find a way to truly understand and accept each other?
4. You have your degree in biopsychology and a PhD. in neuroscience. How has your education influenced your writing?
Neuroscience continues to be the first and foremost influence on what I’m interested in writing about. I’m definitely still a nerdy girl who loves learning about how the brain works. I love that I get to weave this passion for neuroscience into the stories I tell as a novelist. I get to ask the questions I care about most, questions about the brain and the bigger questions about life and then try to answer them as best I can through stories. I’m a lucky, nerdy girl!
5. What part of the writing/publishing process do you find the most challenging, the researching, the actual writing, the editing, the public speaking at conferences and on book tours?
I honestly love all of those aspects of being a writer, even (and especially) the challenges. I think the most challenging part is when I have to do all of these at once! For example, many times in the past year while traveling on book tour for Left Neglected or on speaking tour for Still Alice, I would read a book about autism on the plane and then write some of Love Anthony in a Starbucks (Sydney, London, Montreal) before having to give a talk about Alzheimer’s or a book event about Left Neglected. So on any given day, I might be writing about Olivia and Anthony and autism but also talking about Alice and Alzheimer’s or Sarah and Left Neglect.
6. How was the experience of writing Love Anthony different from your two previous novels, Still Alice and Left Neglected?
When I was writing Still Alice and Left Neglected, I always felt like I could lean on my neuroscience background when I needed it. I could go to the textbooks and the medical community for scientific information about Alzheimer’s or Neglect and traumatic brain injury, and, as a fledgling writer, I found this comforting. With Love Anthony, I was very much aware that I was writing without this safety net. There is no neuroscience textbook on autism. And the structure of this story is far more complex than my previous two books. With Still Alice and Left Neglected, I was a neuroscientist writing a novel. With Love Anthony, I became a novelist.
7. Can you read other writers while you are working on a book, or do you take a sort of ‘media-blackout’ approach?
I’m always reading, typically two or three books at once. While writing Love Anthony, I was always reading a book about autism—The Siege, Born on Blue Day, Making Peace with Autism, A Regular Guy, The Way I See It, Son-Rise, Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. But I was also usually reading a novel or a memoir unrelated to autism. Right now I’m reading Mapping Fate, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Maine.
8. With Still Alice, you raised awareness to the insidious disease of Alzheimer’s, and in Left Neglected, you shed light on traumatic brain injuries. Is it your hope that Love Anthony can do the same for autism?
Absolutely. Scientifically and clinically speaking, we’re only beginning to understand what autism is. Most physicians were taught essentially nothing about it when they were in medical school. So in 2012, we’re in the infancy of elucidating the neuroscience of autism. Yet 1 in 88 children are on the spectrum. And each one of those children has a mother, a father, grandparents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, teachers, student peers, friends—people who are touched by autism, connected to it, and need some better understanding of what it is. I hope that Love Anthony can contribute to an increased awareness and a much-needed, better understanding of autism.
9. What are you working on next?
My next novel is about a genetic, neurodegenerative disease and fate.
Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, Lisa Genova is the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice, Left Neglected, Love Anthony, and Inside the O’Briens. Still Alice was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Kristen Stewart. Lisa graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in biopsychology and holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University. She travels worldwide speaking about the neurological diseases she writes about and has appeared on TheDr. OzShow, Today, PBS NewsHour, CNN, and NPR. Her TED talk, What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer's, has been viewed over 2 million times.
"There’s a point in the narrative where one of the characters becomes so engrossed in reading a book that she loses track of time. Readers of Genova’s latest excellent offering might very well find the same happening to them."
"Lisa Genova's novels ring true. Love Anthony, like Genova's two previous novels, is beautifully written, and poignant to the point of heartbreak...Anyone who has had even a passing contact with an autistic child will relate."
– USA Today
Writing with deep empathy and insight, Genova has created an engaging story that fearlessly asks the big questions.
“Autism is like a Zen koan—a riddle without answers.., with effects that are myriad, mysterious, and confounding. The same could be said about love. This book upended my perceptions of both conditions, leaving me feeling with my mind and thinking with my heart. Everyone should read this book!" --Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
"Lisa Genova has essentially created her own genre, the 'Lisa Genova' novel, in which complicated topics become accessible to readers through beautifully-drawn characters and profound, human-scale stories. Love Anthony dares to ask enormous questions, the big questions that bedevil all of us. Better yet, Genova has the wisdom to know which ones can be answered, and which cannot." --Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of And When She Was Good
"Love Anthony broke my heart in the best way! I read it spellbound and breathless. If you don't know Lisa Genova's work already, meet your new favorite writer, storyteller, enchanter." --Heidi W. Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Winner of the Bellwether Prize
“Genova's deep and empathic insight once again has blown me away -- particularly her intensely accurate portrayal of autism parenting. Her characters are complicated people, with unique, believable and, sometimes frustrating struggles. But perhaps Genova's true mastery is in the way she never fails to give us very real people to love.” --Susan Senator, author of Making Peace With Autism
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