>> Friday, December 9, 2011
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: 2011
The Short Version:
A fascinating story told from the perspective of a woman with dementia who may or may not have killed her best friend.
Why I Read It:
As soon as I read the description of this book I was interested. After reading a few early reviews I got on the library waiting list.
Dr. Jennifer White used to be a talented orthopedic surgeon. When the symptoms of her Alzheimer’s became troublesome she retired early. She now lives at home with a caregiver. Her daughter Fiona is in charge of her financial affairs. Her son Mark is not exactly happy with this arrangement but given his own history it was a wise move.
As the story opens it is soon clear that Dr. White’s longtime friend Amanda has been murdered and had her fingers surgically amputated. The police suspect Dr. White of the crime but her dementia has progressed to the point where she doesn’t remember anything reliably. She doesn’t know who that blond woman in her house is even though Magdalena has been her in home caregiver for eight months.
Told entirely from Dr. White’s perspective this story comes together in pieces both in the present and in the flashbacks to the past that her deteriorating mind slips to more and more. Weaving back and forth between the moments when she is fully present and those in which she’s slipped into disorientation the puzzle pieces gradually come together in surprising ways.
This book fascinated me. When I first read about it I thought it might be a good mystery, but after reading a couple of reviews I learned that it wasn’t a straightforward crime fiction book. It only took a couple of pages of reading for me to decide that this was one of the more unique books I’ve read in a long time. I wasn’t sure whether the device of telling the story through a deteriorating mind would hold up but I have to hand it to the author. I found myself totally wrapped up in this book eagerly waiting for just another moment of lucidity from Dr. Jennifer White to let me glimpse another bit of what really happened.
The sometimes rambling and wandering threads of Dr. White’s story gave me a glimpse into the world as seen by someone with progressive dementia. At times she was on top of things, and at other times she didn’t know who the people in her house were.
It was at times touching, sometimes amusing, often sad, and as the pieces began to accumulate and fall into place for the reader as they became more an more jumbled to Dr. White an ultimately satisfying and fascinating book.
Don’t open this book expecting a typical crime fiction story. Do open it expecting to gain some empathy for family and friends dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. Yes there’s still a mystery and crime fiction element to the story but there is also a touching and tragic story of relationships between friends and family and how they can be both the best thing for all involved and the worst possible mix of personalities, dependencies and dynamics.