The Family Gene

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The Family Gene is not an easy book for me to write about –it’s difficult to say anything about a deadly disease that doesn’t sound trite, glib, or callous. Nor was it an easy book for me to decide to read. Medical dramas tend to distress me –I’m more of an escapist in my entertainment choice. Once I did start reading, however, it was a page-turner from the beginning to the very end.

I might never would have read it at all, if I weren’t a personal acquaintance of the author, Joselin Linder, my classmate at Columbus Alternative High School, class of 1993. We weren’t close friends, but the school was small enough that everyone knew everyone else well. What I didn’t know, and that she herself didn’t know at the time, was that she is the inheritor of an incredibly rare condition: a terminal genetic disease, caused by a mutation that had taken place in her own family no more than a couple generations back; a disease that only fourteen people in the whole world have ever had, and all of them her close relatives.

Serious inheritable genetic diseases tend to be relatively rare because, to be blunt, they tend to kill people –or at least render them infertile or less likely to have children –prior to them reaching their reproductive years. Exceptions to the rule tend to be conditions that, like sickle-cell anemia, only bring on full-scale illness when you inherit two copies of the mutated gene, which allows them to hide unnoticed in the population until two people who are too closely related to each other have children. An genetic illness, like the eponymous family gene of the Linder family, that manifests in everyone who carries it, yet not until well after child-bearing years, and then with deadly fury, is blessedly rare.

Joselin is a good writer. Her history as a humorist gives her a light touch that makes the otherwise heartbreaking material bearable. She also doesn’t rely solely on the intrinsically compelling nature of the condition, and instead enfolds it in a compulsively confessional memoir capable of making the reader laugh through the tears. There’s not much else I feel able to say about this book except that I’m glad I read it and recommend it highly. Go check it out.

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