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Review of Turn of Mind

July 11, 2011

Jenny White is a well-respected retired orthopedic surgeon, mother of two grown children, and best friend to her neighbor Amanda.  She has just one fatal flaw:  she can’t remember if she committed murder.
The debut novel, Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante weaves the theme of Alzheimer’s into this literary thriller that is sure to please readers looking for a fresh and innovative plot twist. The story opens with the death of Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, who when the body is discovered, is found to have had four fingers surgically removed.   Jenny had a complex and often rocky friendship with Amanda as well as a complicated and sometimes cool relationship with her children.  She also has secrets from the past that bubble up to the surface as the story progresses.
We listen to Jenny’s inner dialogue as she recounts her day-by-day progression into the confusion and humiliation of dementia while struggling to maintain her dignity and keep enough wits about her to figure out whether she is truly responsible for Amanda’s death.  Around her, a daughter and son, a caregiver, and the occasional police detective drop in and out of the picture with their own agendas and problems.
Jenny fights to remember the events of the last day of her friend’s life all the while recalling the fractured details of her own life story.   At times, she is a child again looking for her mother, or a young wife waiting for her husband to return home but she always returns to her current circumstance that is robbing her of her memories and the essence of who she was before dementia.  This could be depressing but LaPlante does a brilliant job of showing the absurdity of the pitfalls that life throws at Jenny.  The dark humor is at times of the “laugh-out-loud” variety as Jenny’s clarity comes and goes.  She has good days and bad days, but the shadow of who she used to be lingers and she is a pleasure to follow.
Turn Of Mind is entertaining,  but it’s more than a murder mystery.  Its true genius lies in LaPlante’s brilliant ability to peek inside the Alzheimer’s mind without getting squeamish.  She pulls the reader into an intimate relationship with Jenny whom it’s impossible not to root for and then to also hope for the improbable – a recovery and exoneration from murder.  But we can do nothing for her and that is the truly scary part.

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