Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Turn of Mind," by Alice LaPlante

After I read Alice LaPlante’s novel “A Circle of Wives,” which I wrote about last week (5/26/14), I decided to read her earlier novel, the bestselling “Turn of Mind” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011). This too is a sort of murder mystery, but one incredibly complicated by the fact that the main suspect is a former doctor, Jennifer White, a woman in her mid-sixties who has had to retire because of the onset of Alzheimer’s. The story is told through Dr. White’s own observations, journals, and random thoughts, as well as her interactions with her caregiver and her two grown children, all of whom have their own complicated lives, motivations, secrets, and agendas. The police investigating the crime must struggle through the frustration of dealing with Jennifer’s shifting condition and memory; some days she is quite clear and others not at all. I must admit that upon initially looking at the premise of the book, and the fact that much of it is told through the eyes of a woman with dementia, I was somewhat daunted, and considered not reading it. But after a few pages, I was utterly engaged in it, and I read it in a few hours. The character of Dr. White is a fascinating one, even as she alternates among a deep fog, acerbic comments, and deeply etched memories of her career as a very capable and respected doctor, and as a wife and mother. Of course the topic of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is one much discussed these days, as we all know sufferers of these diseases. (And by coincidence, the book discussed in the guest post here of 5/31/14 also addressed dementia.) LaPlante reminds us of the strange, deeply debilitating, tragic effects of the disease, yet also reminds us of the humanity and personalities of those affected by it. She honors them by acknowledging their true selves, not just focusing on their current conditions. Finally, the solution to the mystery in "Turn of Mind" is a satisfying one, one with an unexpected twist. This post is dedicated, with love, to those in my life who have experienced this disease, including my late grandmother F., my late Uncle L., my late Aunt J., my Uncle B., and my friend B.'s husband S., as well as their closest family members and friends who have loved and supported them amidst the sadness and difficulties of watching the progress of the disease.

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