July 12, 2011

Book Review: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 9:34 am by The Word Jar

Alice LaPlante’s new novel Turn of Mind opens with retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jennifer White unsure of where she is. Sixty-four years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, Dr. White studies her surroundings and uses social cues to figure out she’s in a police station. As she is being read her rights, she realizes something bad has happened. Although she doesn’t understand things at this point, she soon finds out her best friend, Amanda, has been murdered. Because four of Amanda’s fingers have also been surgically removed, Dr. Jennifer White is the main suspect.

The history of Jennifer and Amanda’s friendship unfolds through Jennifer’s faltering memories. As she remembers the many times she was able to confide in Amanda, Jennifer is genuinely saddened by Amanda’s death and upset that her failing cognitive abilities prevented her from helping her friend. At other times, recalling the numerous instances when Amanda schemed to reveal Jennifer’s devastating personal secrets, claiming such revelations would help Jennifer live a better life, she is secretly relieved that Amanda can do no more damage. Their friendship was a shining example of “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer.”

LaPlante uses Dr. Jennifer White as an unsettling narrator. Jennifer’s first-person narration gives readers a unique insight into what it could be like to suffer from Alzheimer’s—finding people in your house you don’t recognize, coming back to the present in a place you don’t remember being just minutes before, losing your dignity in a facility staffed by people who view you not as a person, but another chart to be maintained. Readers share in Jennifer’s increasing confusion and memory loss, highlighted by exhilarating memories of successful, delicate surgeries and marred by increasingly erratic and violent episodes when Jennifer doesn’t know where she is or whom she is with.

Turn of Mind forces readers to be on their toes during this heart-wrenching, poignant descent deeper into Alzheimer’s. Afterall, how reliable can a narrator be when her recall is impaired? As Alzheimer’s grip on Jennifer’s mind becomes tighter, her lips become looser. She speaks her mind to people instead of trying to play along with social games she no longer understands. The progressive dementia eats away at Jennifer’s ability to maintain the lies surrounding Amanda’s murder. As readers go on this stunning, emotional journey with Dr. Jennifer White, they find that once Alzheimer’s strips everything away, only the truth remains.

(Review copy source: Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley)


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