I usually think long and hard when trying to decide what book to read; every once in a while, though, I end up – for better or for worse – making a completely random selection. In this instance, Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante, was one of the only two books to seem even marginally appealing at a particular buy-one-get-one book sale. I took a chance, and this time it actually paid off.
Dr. Jennifer White is a 64 year old widow suffering from rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s disease. While her two adult children struggle over the best course of action to take in terms of their mother’s living arrangements, Jennifer’s long-time best friend and neighbor, Amanda, is found brutally murdered in her home. Her fingers have been cut off with surgical precision. Jennifer was an orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hands. Clearly, the cops zero in on Dr. White, but struggle with the investigation – Jennifer has no memory of any sort of altercation, and the blatant, precise cleanup attempt does not correspond with the behavior of someone in the full throws of dementia.
Told from Jennifer’s perspective, Turn of Mind details the painful disintegration of a brilliant mind in tandem with the collapse of Amanda and Jennifer’s friendship. Through brief flashes of past situations and fractured entries in Jennifer’s journal, a relationship fraught with rivalry and secrets is revealed, and neither party is without blame.
At times, the novel is frustrating – things must constantly be repeated to Jennifer, and she easily becomes irritated and aggressive when she senses arrogance and pity from those around her. Moreover, the backstory is pieced together gradually through increasingly inaccurate memories and the scattered journal excerpts. It is difficult to establish which information can be trusted while keeping all of the details straight. That’s what takes this novel from “good” to “pretty damn good.” In not being able to judge the accuracy of the available information, while becoming progressively agitated at the inability to access other aspects of the story, we are placed in the same torturous state-of-mind as Jennifer. This is awful and fascinating all at once as we are given a front row seat into the horrors of this disease.
Captivating from beginning to end, Turn of Mind is a finely executed blend of crime drama, heartbreak, and karma. Nothing is as it seems in this original and well-done novel.