Lisa Genova’s (Still Alice) new novel, Left Neglected, tells the story of Sarah Nickerson, a suburban Boston woman who precariously balances a high-powered career, marriage, and three small children in a frenetic dance that’s more mosh pit than Kabuki. Sarah describes her world in dizzying terms, in a language familiar to working moms everywhere.
Then the unthinkable happens: While driving, she attempts to make a phone call and ends up in a horrific crash. Sarah somehow manages to come out alive, but is left with a right-hemisphere brain injury — Left Neglect. This little-known but truly serious disorder affects the left-side view of the patient. In other words, Sarah is unable to see anything on the left. Her vision is intact, but the “left” no longer exists for her — her left leg, her left hand, anyone and anything on her left periphery.
With plenty of therapy and assistance from her husband and her estranged mother, Sarah has every chance of literally getting back on her feet and living a full life. But being a Type A personality, she frets about her responsibilities at work. She misses her BlackBerry and believes the place will fall apart without her. She worries about her young son who has been diagnosed ADHD after experiencing a disastrous school year. Her fear and frustration at not being able to recover in record time is palpable. She chaffs at and initially rejects offers of help, until she realizes she just can’t jump up and head full bore at her life like she did before.
While recuperating, Sarah learns to separate the important things in life from what she once believed was important, and in doing so, strengthened the bond with her husband and children and rebuilt the flagging relationship with her mother. She adjusts, forgives, and eventually accepts her new life.
Lisa Genova holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University, so she is well-versed in brain injuries and disorders. Left Neglected is artfully told, managing to hold the reader in the story while exploring the curious condition of Left Neglect, also known as Hemispatial Neglect.
Left Neglected is a compelling journey of one woman’s road to recovery. Brava to Ms. Genova for a story well told.