From the author of Heather's Pick Still Alice and the bestselling Left Neglected comes Love Anthony: a novel of family, autism, and unconditional love. Two women, both enduring heartbreak, meet and make a life changing connection. Olivia is mourning the recent death of her 8-year-old autistic son, and Beth is adjusting to the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. Both women find themselves connecting, and helping each other to heal and move on. The Indigo Fiction Blog is pleased to present this interview with the author of this heartfelt and extraordinary novel.
Q: Anthony’s voice is so well crafted and believable. What kind of research did you have to do in order to convey a young autistic boy’s point of view so authentically?
Lisa Genova (LG): Thank you. 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. 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. And my cousin’s son has nonverbal autism, so I also have a deeply personal connection.
Q: The subject matter in your previous books, Still Alice and Left Neglected, was based firmly in the scientific world. In Love Anthony you take a departure from this and deal with a theme that is a bit more fantastical. Can you touch on this briefly?
LG: 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. And inspiration often began with the neuroscience. For example, the very first paragraph of Still Alice is essentially a description of apoptosis.
With Love Anthony, I was very much aware that I was writing without this safety net. There is no neuroscience textbook on autism. 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. In 2012, we’re still in the infancy of elucidating the neuroscience of autism, and so I really had to leave my comfort zone to write this story. With Still Alice and Left Neglected, I was a neuroscientist writing a novel. With Love Anthony, I became a novelist.
Q: Where did you get the idea to write about a deceased autistic boy's story as told through the conduit of a middle-aged woman?
LG: The inspiration to write about a boy with nonverbal autism comes from my cousin’s son, Anthony. The story of Love Anthony came to me in a meditation.
Q: Both of your female lead characters discover a strength they didn’t know they possessed. Did you struggle with giving Beth a happy ending with Jimmy?
LG: Yes! This was probably the most unanswered question in the book while I was writing it. Will Beth forgive Jimmy and take him back, or will she leave him? Right up until she decided, I honestly didn’t know what she would do! My aunts, a friend, my husband, my editor, and my agent were reading along as I wrote the book, and they all had different opinions. Thankfully, I realized that the answer Beth was looking for would have to come from Anthony. And then, her decision and her ending became obvious.
Q: Love Anthony is as much about autism as it is about love, marriage and relationships. Were any of the characters or the relationships in the novel based on real people?
LG: 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.
I’ve also been divorced, and I definitely drew from that experience when writing about Olivia and David. And I so adore Beth’s relationship with her girlfriends. I’ve always had amazing women in my life to love.
Q: Are there particular authors who have inspired your writing? Who are the literary giants, past or present, that you esteem.
LG: My “literary” giants are probably not on any other writer’s list. Although I love Shakespeare and Hemingway, the writers who’ve inspired me most come from the neuroscience world—Oliver Sacks, Steven Pinker, Antonio Damasio, V.S. Ramachandran. I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and really should add Rebecca Skloot to that list. Amazing story, brilliant writing!
The Fiction Blog thanks Simon and Schuster Canada for facilitating this interview, and wishes the author best of luck with this new title.