Tuesday, July 19, 2011

{read: debut fiction} Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Dr. Jennifer White used to be a hand surgeon, but she retired when she began to show symptoms of Alzheimer's. This stunning first novel is told from her point of view. Sometimes she remembers people and their names in the beginning of the book, but mostly these things have left her mind by the end. Complicating matters is the murder of her best friend and neighbor from three doors down, Amanda. Amanda's body was found with a head wound and the fingers on one hand severed and missing. Another neighbor saw Jennifer go into the house and she is, at the very least, the last person to see Amanda alive. But despite the repeated questioning of police, Jennifer doesn't remember anything about the murder. In fact, each time they question her they have to break the news to her again that Amanda is dead.

One review that I read said that if one of the goals of literature is to allow readers to inhabit worlds and perspectives that they would otherwise not be able to access, then this novel is outstanding, and I agree. The writing is very fluid, and although Jennifer's level of awareness and sense of time change frequently, I didn't find the story hard to follow. The complex relationships between Jennifer and her husband and Jennifer and Amanda are well developed, as are those with her own children.

This novel made me think about things that I don't usually ponder: how can we best care for Alzheimer's patients while respecting their dignity? As the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly frustrating for the patient, the caregivers, and the family members, who can be denied a chance to say good-bye if they keep putting it off, thinking there is more time.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011)
My rating: 4 stars

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