BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of MindOn the kitchen wall is taped a large sign: “My name is Dr. Jennifer White. I am sixty-four years old. I have dementia. My son, Mark, is twenty-nine. My daughter, Fiona, twenty-four. A caregiver, Magdalena, lives with me.”

What else should you know without telling you too much …?

Dr. White was a renowned surgeon before she retired. Her specialty was hands. She keeps a notebook in which she makes records of what she remembers; other family and friends also contribute to the pages. Her best friend and neighbor Amanda is dead; her body was found with four fingers from her right hand severed. Dr. White’s husband James is also dead; he lost control of the car when he had a heart attack. Her stock statement reads $2.56 million, but she’s not sure if that’s a lot of money: “AAPL, IBM, CVR, ASF, SFR. The secret language of money.”

And that covers about the first 15 pages. Can you shout “WOW”??!!

A seasoned journalist and creative writing instructor at Stanford, Alice LaPlante used words to deal with her own mother’s Alzheimer’s. In an article in the U.K.’s Guardian, LaPlante explains she tried non-fiction, journaling, a short story, before settling on writing a mystery – a genre she does not read – after an offhand remark her husband made while watching Sherlock Holmes.

What emerges is a first novel for which superlatives like ‘astonishing,’ ‘stupendous,’ ‘stunning,’ just don’t do it enough justice. Part mystery, part thriller, part family saga, part medical journal, Turn of Mind is a book you need to get right now and start reading (or listening – Jean Reed Bahle’s narration is expertly paced, her almost sly tone creating a smoothness just perfect for a most unreliable narrator). Don’t stop until that devastating final sentence: “In the end, that is enough.”

Tidbit: I came to Mind by way of a poet friend (with whom I share a hometown and middle school) famous for her writings on her own mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, most notably her Dementia Blog. The day I reached the final page and finally exhaled, I happened to join a few of my hens for A Separation, one of the very best films I’ve seen in years. No spoilers: watch it to recognize the links. On that same day still, NPR shared a report that a skin cancer drug was working wonders on mice with Alzheimer’s. And that night, to keep my brain cells connected a bit longer … I started The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley (also at my poet’s behest), in which certain drugs make a grace-filled, havoc-ridden (both!) appearance. Surreal synchronicity: stay tuned …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011



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