Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

By Ekta R. Garg

March 22, 2018

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: March 20, 2018

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A world-renowned musician receives a devastating medical diagnosis. As his condition deteriorates his estranged ex-wife becomes his caretaker, and the two of them reflect on their relationship as everything comes to an end. Author Lisa Genova brings all her scientific knowledge to illuminate yet another mystifying disease in the informative yet unsatisfying novel Every Note Played.

Richard Evans knows how to enthrall a crowd. He’s done it for years, and the attention makes him preen. Piano fans all over the globe have listened to him play the most complicated pieces with flawlessness.

Of course, his personal life is far from flawless. After several years of resentment and neglect, his wife decides she’s had enough and they get a divorce. But that doesn’t really matter to Richard. Why does he need the attention of one woman when the entire world sits with bated breath at his feet?

Then comes the day when his fingers stop doing what he wants them to, and Richard goes to the doctor. He doesn’t have tendinitis or any other condition common to pianists. Richard has Lou Gehrig’s disease, known in the medical world as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis‎, or ALS. Most research states he’ll die within five years.

Since the divorce, Karina has done what she can to live a normal life. She sits at a piano day after day trying to impart some love and appreciation for the instrument to kids who come for lessons. The majority of them plunk their way through those 30-minute sessions, torture for students and teacher both.

Karina despises Richard, no doubt about that. When she had the opportunity to take her own music career forward in a major way, he convinced her to move from New York City to Boston. The move benefitted Richard tenfold. It took Karina’s music away from her. It didn’t help that she started as a classical pianist like Richard and veered into the world of jazz, something Richard has sneered at time and again. No, she’s happy to have her space now that he’s gone.

Then she finds out about Richard’s diagnosis. Her initial attempts to offer her sympathy get rebuffed, but that doesn’t surprise her. What does surprise her is the day Richard calls, desperate after he falls and no one is around to help. Even though she would rather slam the cover of the piano keys over her own fingers repeatedly, Karina tells Richard he needs to move out of his Boston brownstone and back in with her.

As Richard’s disease progresses, the two find neutral ground. When Richard musters up the courage to tell Grace, their college-aged daughter, about his disease, Karina acts as mediator between the two. Whether she wants to forgive him or not for the utter carelessness he showed her during their marriage, Karina realizes she won’t have a choice. One way or the other, she will simply have to let Richard go.

Author Lisa Genova shows her command once again in tackling a neuroscientific disease. As with her other books, Genova takes the complicated issues surrounding the disease and presents them in laymen’s terms. If a person knows absolutely nothing about ALS before reading Every Note Played, they will be armed with a wealth of information by the end of the novel.

It’s truly a shame, then, that Genova’s detailed research and lively descriptions aren’t supported by characters worthy of either. Richard’s arrogance as a concert pianist may seem justified in the start of the book, but his arrogance never wavers. Even when he’s completely dependent on Karina for the simplest of tasks like wiping his chin, everything about his life revolves around what he thinks and wants.

As the wronged wife, Karina may deserve sympathy at first. At some point her willingness to let Richard push her around makes her character balance that fine edge between a dignified partner and a whiny victim. It’s hard to tell sometimes what role she wants to play.

Their daughter, Grace, figures into the book more as a placeholder. The story really revolves around Richard and Karina and their individual struggles. Even knowing they were previously married makes it difficult to imagine them as a unit. They don’t like one another at all, which may make it harder for readers to suspend their disbelief when Karina allows Richard to come back home for the duration of his life.

Fans of Genova’s work will definitely appreciate her careful detailing. For other readers, however, I suggest they Borrow Every Note Played.