TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante

Book Quote:

“What has been lost? Your poor, poor mind. Your life.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (JUL 6, 2011)

Dr. Jennifer White has early onset Alzheimer’s disease at 64 years old. Once an esteemed orthopedic surgeon specializing in surgery of the hands, she is now unable to remember things from minute to minute, unable to recognize her son Mark or her daughter Fiona most of the time. Her mind goes in and out from fog to lucidity but the lucidity, for the most part, are memories of her early life. In Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, the reader gets deeply into the mind of a woman with dementia. It is very realistic and fascinating. Having a mother with dementia and being a clinical social worker myself, I can say without reservation that Alice LaPlante really gets it.

The novel is primarily about Jennifer’s life, before and after the onset of her dementia. We go backwards with her as she remembers her marriage, her family of origin, her childbirths and her education. Complicating matters is the fact that Amanda, her best friend, has been murdered and four digits of Amanda’s hand have been removed. Jennifer has gone from being a “person of interest”  to becoming a primary suspect. The question remains, however, whether she did it and why would she do such a thing. The digits were removed in a professional manner, in the way an orthopedist might do such a thing.

We go back with Jennifer to her relationship with Amanda. Both are very strong women. Amanda is one tough cookie, honest to the point of disregarding feelings and willing to betray a friend’s confidence if she does not agree with their ethics. At one point Jennifer calls Amanda both “the inflictor and healer of my pain. Both.” Jennifer has narcissistic tendencies, sees herself as better than others, more deserving. “People who take this to an extreme are called sociopaths, Amanda tells me. You have certain tendencies. You should watch them.”

Mark and Fiona are both portrayed as loving their mother but not being entirely honest in their interactions with her. Mark describes himself as “Tall, dark, handsome twenty-nine-year-old lawyer, with a bit of a substance abuse problem, looking for love and money in what are apparently all the wrong places.”  One of the places he goes to for money is to Jennifer. Fiona, however, is Jennifer’s financial executor and she and Mark are estranged. The family dynamics play out very interestingly.

As the novel starts, Jennifer is living at home with a caretaker. She calls her disease “a death sentence. The death of the mind. I’ve already given notice at the hospital, announced my retirement. I have started keeping a journal so I have some continuity in my life. But I won’t be able to live on my own for very much longer.” After she begins to degenerate drastically, Mark and Fiona put her in an assisted care facility where she is often restrained because of her drastic changes of mood and aggression. She has reached a point where she is not cognizant of her visitors’ names, even people she’s known all her life. When things get hardest for her, she takes herself to a zone in the past where she guides herself through imagery and memories.

The detective on the case frequently visits Jennifer, hoping to find her lucid enough to remember something, anything about Amanda’s death. Her children want Jennifer to be left alone but the detective is tenacious. If Jennifer is convicted of this crime, even though she is incompetent mentally, she will have to be moved to a state facility. There is a lot at stake here.

Alice LaPlante writes like a pro. I’d never guess this is a debut novel. It reads fluidly and builds up cadence and tension. I hated to put it down and, thankfully, was able to finish it in two days. I look forward to LaPlante’s books down the road. She has a great gift.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 210 readers
PUBLISHER: Atlantic Monthly Press (July 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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July 6, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Family Matters, Literary, Mystery/Suspense, Reading Guide, Thriller/Spy/Caper

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