Monday, September 12, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Most of us know, whether from our own experiences or not, what Alzheimer's symptoms look like.  But what does it feel like?  This is the thought that Alice LaPlante expands upon in Turn of Mind.  The main character, Dr. Jennifer White, was a newly widowed and newly retired orthopedic surgeon.  Her strong personality stands in stark contrast to the beginning stages of dementia.

The Plot (from the book jacket):
"As the story opens, Jennifer's life-long friend and neighbor, Amanda, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed.  Dr. White is the prime suspect in the murder and she herself doesn't know if she did it or not.  Narrated in her voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between this pair--two proud, forceful women who were at times each other's most formidable adversaries."

The story is split into three different sections, and with each progression the disease progresses as well, indicated by a change in point-of-view.  What begins in first person narrative eventually moves to the second and third person, showing the growing disassociation in Jennifer's mind.  Told in a combination of dialogue, thoughts, journal entries, memories, and general scene description, the big question is: was this combination of techniques successful?  The answer, for me, is yes and no.

I liked the pace of the book--the snatches of conversation, glimpses of the past, and the perceived reality, but other things seemed too fabricated and pulled me away from the story being told.  The point of view, for example, was a little wonky.  It wasn't simply first person, second person and third person, because scenes were often described clearly, when Jennifer definitely wasn't experiencing them that way.  It was more like a first-person-limited-omniscient or something.

It was an enjoyable read, something different and unique, yet still forgettable.  Perhaps because of the distance created from the premise of the story, most of the conflict seemed superficial.  I didn't sympathize with any of the characters, and in fact found most of them to be annoying--especially the view on marriage which was a first-rate downer.  I need hopeful circumspection mixed in with my depressing reality.
You learn, you grieve, you forgive, or at least you accept.  That's why we've lasted.  That's how we've endured.  The secret of a happy marriage: not honesty, not forgiveness, but acceptance that is a kind of respect for the other's right to make mistakes.  Or rather, the right to make choices.  Choices you can't be sorry for, because they were the right ones.  So I never apologized.  And so the matter died between us, but with it something else.  Not enough to bring down the tree of our marriage, but a bough did fall that didn't grow back.
Title: Turn of Mind
Author: Alice LaPlante
Pages: 304
Published: Grove Press 2011
Read For: Powell's Indiespensable selection
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Eligible to be nominated!


  1. I thought this was a very interesting book and overall I gave it a very good review, but there was something I was never able to put into words, about how the narrator must be unreliable in this case, and the narrative flow occasionally entirely too lucid and precise to be the believable narrative of a woman sinking into dementia.

    That being said, I liked your review of the book much better than my own. Well done.

  2. I felt similar to you about this book. I didn't like the characters, and the reason why Amanda was killed seemed insignificant/trite compared to the Alzheimer's storyline. Overall, meh for me.

  3. Crowe, I couldn't find your review...could you direct me to it? I think my research-y skills are all used up for today! I like how you said this: the narrative flow occasionally entirely too lucid and precise to be the believable narrative of a woman sinking into dementia. That's what kept making me stop reading, trying to figure out what was going on with the writing structure.

    readerofthepack, I enjoyed reading it, but when it was done I was left without much to ponder or think about, which was a bit of a letdown. I wish it had gone deeper into the Alzheimer's instead of broadening out into the mystery.

  4. Interesting. I saw this one in Bookmarks magazine and was pretty interested, but if it's forgettable it might be moving towards the bottom of the list... there's just so much to read right now!

  5. Wallace, it was interesting (I wouldn't take it off the list, you know?) but it is one that you could save for a time when you can use a quicker read, and when there aren't a billion books clamoring to be read.


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