No loving mother would want to see her children in a difficult situation or having a condition that was detrimental to their quality of life.
Olivia is faced with grief every day from her autistic boy’s death and wonders what his purpose in life was if he spent it on earth with a disability – only to pass away at an early age.
She wants to know why he existed at all, since he caused so much pain in her heart and tore apart her marriage with her now ex-husband, David. The answers do not come quick enough (despite trying to consult the town priest), but they do come eventually.
The solution is disguised in the form of Beth, who lives in the same town as Olivia, on Nantucket Island. Beth has three girls (Sophie, Jessica and Gracie) with her husband Jimmy but we find out early on in the story that he has cheated on her and she decides to kick him out of the house.
Unbeknownst to either woman, Beth and Olivia have seen each other before on the beach years ago but this only comes to light once they make a connection through Beth’s novel and Olivia’s skill in photography.
Both women are dealing with a void in their life and they each decide to take on a hobby for inspiration. Beth does this by writing a fictitious account of an autistic boy and Olivia’s outlet for finding some peace is through doing beach portraits. A strong bond is formed between them when Beth asks Olivia for her photo services and also if she wouldn’t mind editing her first book (Olivia used to be an editor at a publishing company).
The way Genova’s tale builds to the conclusion and ultimately ends, will either make you cry or make you roll your eyes (depending on what you believe in).
I couldn’t help but actually shed some tears. This third story from Genova did not grab me at first like her other work but as the novel moved along, I began to realize her whole point. Even though unconditional love is supposed to be the moral of the book, I really felt that it was also about appreciating the littlest things that can make one happy and respecting the fact that different people will have their own ways of embracing happiness. Olivia learns how Anthony felt truly blessed in his own world, despite society feeling sorry for his condition.
All serious issues aside, Genova has the knack to weave humor into ALL her books and Love Anthony was no different. I only have to mention when Olivia explains Anthony’s hand flapping as a fundamental behavior, since he was born into an Italian family (“He’s Italian! Of course he speaks with his hands”). The scene where Beth and Jimmy first meet with Dr. Campbell is also there for comic relief (recall the things Beth thinks about and Oscar the falcon).
I’ll admit that I thought this book would be different than what it was, but I can’t say I was disappointed.
Several titles were swimming in my mind while reading this novel. In Lilian Nattel’s Web of Angels, I remember the part where Sharon goes to therapy with her husband and in Love Anthony, Beth and Jimmy attend couples therapy because of their marital situation. Both stories use the example of the “happy family” picture that everyone sees on the outside, while unknowingly there are issues inside the home. Olivia reading her journal and reliving the years she experienced while Anthony was alive, reminded me of how the journal excerpts in The Imposter Bride (by Nancy Richler), was important to reveal certain information about the past. Meanwhile, the chapters that are written in Anthony’s voice almost match the voice of Jack in Emma Donoghue’s Room. There is the same childlike point of view and you get to see what they are really thinking. Of course, I would have to mention The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, only because it also focuses on an autistic boy, but he is not so severely affected as Anthony is.
Did you read Genova’s other titles (Still Alice and Left Neglected)? I am curious to know what your thoughts were for this one, since it is more spiritual than physiological, seeing that Genova is a trained neuroscientist, after all.
Next month I’ll be reviewing a fictional account of Hellen Keller’s brief and lesser-known love affair, in Rosie Sultan’s Helen Keller in Love. Hope you will be just as intrigued as I was!