Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Review Of "Turn of Mind" [41]

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0802119773
July 5, 2011, 320 pages

What should be the punishment for corruption?

She was playing with me, and I knew it. A dangerous game.
As I said, pure corruption is pure evil. 
Something to be eradicated.

Do you mean it deserves death? 

Yes, when it manifests itself in its purest form.

As the book opens, we meet Dr. Jennifer White, once a brilliant and very successful orthopedic surgeon, now suffering from progressive dementia due to Alzheimer. And we find out that her long time friend and neighbor, Amanda, has been killed, four fingers on her hand surgically remove, a fact that makes Jennifer the number one suspect.
Of course, she really has no idea whether she did it or not.

As the story slowly unwinds, piece by piece, all told in Jennifer's own voice, we learn that the story may be more complex than we first thought. Yes, she and Amanda were friends for decades, but in many ways, they were also formidable adversaries. As we share her memories, tiny piece by tiny piece, we see that this friendship was often very complicated and not without a dark side.
We meet Jennifer's two adult children, Fiona, an economics professor and her son Mark, a lawyer like his deceased father, as they make arrangements to care for her mother as she starts to decline. They visit often, hire a full time caregiver, take over her medical and financial decisions, all to protect her. Or are their motives not quite as pure as we might hope. We start to have some suspicions, as we share some of Jennifer's memories, some recent, many from decades earlier. But are they real or a result of her growing paranoia and confusion? 

In part, this book is a straight out mystery, in part, it is a family saga and in part, a medical drama, and all are very well done.
The story is written in a linear way, starting just after the murder and following Jennifer as her disease progresses. It starts when Jennifer is still in a stage of her disease when she has good days and bad days. On good days, she knows who she is, knows she was a doctor, recognizes friends and family who visit. On good days she remembers that her friend is dead and even recognized that the police who are talking to her consider her a suspect. On bad days, she is surprised by the woman she sees in the mirror and lives increasing in a world that is a blend of fantasy and decade old memories. Surprisingly for her, and for us the readers, it is the good days that are the hardest, as we both share the heartbreaking understanding of what is happening to her.

Yet this is also a very non-linear book. Slowly we start to figure out the story, as, throughout the book, we share Jennifer's very disconnected memories. A hint here, a clue there, a conversation from years ago, all coming together. It is like a giant jig-saw puzzle, and piece by piece the picture starts to form, not complete until the very last pages. In lesser hands this could have been a confusing mess, but LaPlante displays a great deal of talent for holding it together in this, her debut novel. The resulting book is attention holding from start to finish, at times very dark, at times a bit funny, but always interesting and always with a tragic undercurrent, because this book is not going to have a happy ending.

Except for the happiness that can be found in acceptance..and the peace that forgetting brings.

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for making a review copy of this book available.


  1. Caite...loved what you had to say about this one. It sounds like my kind of book, and is in my read sooner, than later piles.

  2. I'm not a fan of competitive friendships like that and tend to avoid them. I think I would be a fan of this book, though! I feel like I need to know if Jennifer did it or not.

  3. Hi Caite,

    Thanks for a great review.

    This is another author that I am unfamiliar with, but I was intrigued enough about this book, to add it to my reading list.

    I like the sound of the mystery and intrigue that the storyline throws up, as well as the inter-personal relationships it explores, about a subject that is becoming so much more prevelant in our society and which could affect any one of us, without rhyme or reason.

    Thanks for sharing and for the recommendation.


  4. This is the type of book I like. I have a copy and it's almost to the top of my tbr pile. I hope it's as good as it sounds. Nice review.

  5. Looks like a good challenge, this book. Thanks for the review.

  6. I am new to your blog, I just wanted to stop by. I also reviewed Turn of Mind. I enjoyed reading your post. This book was hard to read at times, sad. But it was a page turner and enjoyed reading. Thanks for the post. You can go to my post and compare.


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