Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante — 320 pgs

Turn of MindDr. Jennifer White is slowly losing her mind after having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Jennifer, once a prominent and skilled orthopedic surgeon, has not only lost her ability to practice medicine, but her independence, mobility and cognitive skills. Now she regresses day by day to the point of an aggressive and almost childlike senility. Jennifer has good days and bad days, but recently she’s had to have a home health aide move into her home to assist her, a fact that embarrasses and angers her. Her grown children, Fiona and Mark, visit frequently, but it’s debatable whether they’re helping their mother or hindering her. When Jennifer’s best friend and neighbor of many, many years, Amanda, is found murdered with four fingers from one hand surgically removed, the police investigators come right to Jennifer as the prime suspect. The problem is that Jennifer has deteriorated so badly that she can’t remember if she committed the crime or not. But this isn’t a cut-and-dried case, for Amanda was good at alienating and threatening everyone around her, and through the increasingly muddy reflections of Jennifer's ailing mind, a picture begins to emerge of two women who are ideally suited for each other yet repugnantly averse to each other as well. As Jennifer’s cognitive abilities begin to dwindle more and more rapidly every day, she’s left in the position of having to be moved into a full time care facility while her children watch her mind slowly slide away. Will Jennifer ever remember if she played a role in Amanda’s death or not, and what will become of her when she’s no longer able to mentally function or recognize those around her? In this harrowing and suspenseful novel, the day to day life of one woman living through Alzheimer's disease is achingly portrayed in all its terrible impact, leaving her to cope with impotent fury at the inevitable future that’s lurking just around the bend.

Though this book was incredibly suspenseful, it was also very, very sad. Having to watch as one woman loses every faculty her mind possesses was not only enervating, but also at times torturous. The book is written in a unique style of small paragraphs that each house snippets of dialogue or action, and as such, the story moves quickly in small digestible bits of information and narration. As the reader works their way through the tale, more and more is revealed about Jennifer and the people surrounding her, and the effect of the parceling out of this information has a stunning impact on the realities of what type of life this woman is living and has lived in the past. Though her future is terrible to contemplate, her past was also filled with woe and discomfort, and it’s Jennifer’s ability to remain detached, both in the past and present, that allows for greater impact in the story of her life.

Both of Dr. White’s children are somewhat suspect. Her son, Mark, seems always to be looking for a handout and will sometimes manipulate his unwell mother in order to get what he wants. He seemed to be very untrustworthy and at times even cold and hostile to his ailing mother. Fiona was a little better, but there was something about her that evaded normalcy and made her a person who was not always trustworthy either. LaPlante succeeds in making the people who interact with Jennifer seem a bit debauched, and by doing this, the reader can start to feel like they’re inhabiting Jennifer’s mind and feeling the suspicion and paranoia that the protagonist is experiencing. As Jennifer deteriorates, she has moments and even hours of stiff lucidity that allow her to reflect on her life and the lives of her family. She never regrets the things she’s done, but there is a certain wistfulness at the way things have turned out for her. At other times she’s no better than screaming, biting harridan, incapable of behaving normally or remembering who her family are. In the typical fashion of Alzheimer’s, Jennifer swings from bad to good several times a day, and though she’s usually compliant, there are times when she is violent, refuses her medication, and acts out.

When the news of the murder reaches Jennifer, she is disbelieving, and because of the nature of her disease, she must have the news broken to her over and over again. As Jennifer mentally regresses, she’s sometimes able to get lost in the memories of her friendship with Amanda in all its unhealthy and strange permutations. Amanda was the type of woman who was controlling, demanding and secretive. She has information at her disposal and uses it to blackmail others and make demands that she would otherwise not be able to make. Her friendship with Jennifer is strange in that both women seem to both hate and love each other, and there is a dependence that they share for one another that is not in the least healthy. When I was reading, I was wondering why Jennifer kept her friendship with Amanda going, why she kept forgiving this woman. Ultimately I think it came down to power. Amanda had it, and Jennifer was envious of it, and because of the inequality in the balance of power between them, the friendship crossed boundaries that it normally wouldn’t have. At the bottom of all this was the fact that no matter how abusive Amanda was to her, Jennifer genuinely loved and cared for her. This was one reason why it was so hard for her to understand that the police suspected her in Amanda’s murder, and why it was so painful for her to have to receive the news over and over again. In a way, Jennifer was closer to Amanda than she was to anyone in her own family, even her children.

This was a suspenseful knot of a read that kept me guessing all the way to the final page. The book’s plotting was exceptionally tight and though the story was written in a slightly different style, it was the kind of book that’s easy to become emotionally invested in on several levels. Far from being only a murder mystery, this book has the added depth and pathos of sharing the story of a woman in the throes of a disease that is eating her consciousness away day by day. In the end, I think you‘ll be just as surprised as I was at the implications of this story, and though it’s a difficult read, it’s definitely one that will keep its readers guessing time and time again. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

20 comments:

Amy said...

This sounds like another powerful and emotion book - you've been reading a lot of these lately! Thanks for the fantastic review.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I was going to say what Amy did - what's up with all the sad books lately! :--)

nomadreader said...

I've been hearing interesting things about this one, but you've just convinced me to read it. Great review!

Marie said...

Wow, sounds amazing. I hadn't heard of this at all so I'm glad to see you covered it! I will definitely keep an eye out!

Aths said...

I had been seeing this one for a while now but wasn't sure about how I would approach it. Mostly I try to avoid medical thrillers, but this doesn't sound like one at all. I'm fascinated by stories about (and esp written from the perspective of) people with problems of the mind. Thanks so much for the awesome review! I think I will look this one up!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Ever since my grandmother passed from complications of Alzheimer's, I've got in my mind that I'm going to end up with it! It was a horrible thing to witness. So I can imagine this was not an easy read! And why are the children of sick parents always such asses? Annoys the heck out of me. Can't they just be normal and caring?

Anita said...

This sounds like a book I'd really enjoy, if that is the right term. I think your review makes it even more appealing. I do not need to add more books to my files, some days I think I need to stop reading book blogs...ha ha.
Thank you so much. I loved Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and my dad has Alzheimer's disease, so I can relate to the loved ones of Jennifer, only I hope I'm doing better.

Nymeth said...

This sounds excellent, but yes, also heartbreakingly sad. I might have told you this before but I find Alzheimer's one of the saddest topics ever to read about. Which isn't to say I wouldn't pick this up, of course.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Wow this sounds like an incredible mystery but also a heart wrenching mental illness story. What a unique combination. Looks very good.

Audra said...

Sounds...well, I'm not sure. I hesitate to say 'good' since the set up is kind of miserable -- but it's so unusual! I'm going to look for this one from this review -- although I wonder if I might go a little mad myself reading this.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I thought this was more like Still ALice; Genova, but by reading this review, it's very very different. I am still intrigued. Thanks for sharing.

Jenny said...

This sounds sad. I like it, though, when a book can use an unreliable narrator to cast doubt on all the other characters. It's easy to doubt the unreliable narrator, but not so easy to spot the places where they ARE reliable.

TheBookGirl said...

This sounds like quite a heavy read...I like the suspense aspect to it, but I'm not sure that I wouldn't be overwhelmed by the sadness/pathos of the Alzheimer's storyline. I met this author at an event recently and she was very gracious, and most appreciative of what book bloggers do.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

My grandmother had Alzheimer's, so I'm really interested in this one. Aside from The Notebook which kind of sucked, I've never encountered a book that tackled the disease. I think this is a mystery with a brilliant twist. :)

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

This is one that I would love to read. It sounds like a powerful, emotional page-turner. Great review!

Suko said...

Zibilee, this book sounds really complex and worth reading. Excellent review!

Aarti said...

I think Alzheimer's just sounds horrible for everyone involved. I can't imagine how sick I'd feel if one day my mother or father just didn't know who I was any more. Because of that, I can't imagine how this book would be anything BUT sad.

And I agree with Amy and Jill- read something fun next!

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

Wow, this does sound amazing.

Geosi said...

I like books with well-layered plots that does not give the story too easily. In that case, I think this book is for me. Wonderful review.

Jenners said...

I had seen the description for this book and thought "That sounds good but I wonder how the author pulls it off?" Thanks for answering that question. Onto the (ever-growing) wish list it goes!

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