Title: Turn of Mind
Author: Alice LaPlante
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Grove Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Dr. Jennifer White is an orthopedic surgeon focusing on hands, but she cannot practice anymore. At sixty-four years old, Jennifer is suffering from dementia; she often forgets where she is or who those people closest to her are. She keeps a notebook, often filled in by her caretaker and children, to keep track of her days, a desperate attempt to help her retain all those memories that are slipping away. When Jennifer’s best friend Amanda is found dead, suspicion falls on Jennifer because four of Amanda’s fingers were removed postmortem with surgical precision. Jennifer must struggle to remember if she had anything to do with Amanda’s death, while also trying to hold on to what little she has left.
In Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante presents a fate far worse than death for many of us: that of a deteriorating mind. From the beginning, it’s clear that Jennifer’s dementia is somewhat advanced, and she declines considerably over the course of the book. LaPlante’s presentation of an unraveling mind is, quite simply, frightening. Readers will race through the book, simultaneously aching to know the ending and praying with all their might that Jennifer’s condition never becomes one they have to know personally, whether it be through friends, parents, or themselves. It’s difficult to describe how well LaPlante writes Jennifer’s dementia; while there can be no real understanding for such a difficult condition, the author helps the reader to see how hopeless it is.
Jennifer isn’t necessarily a likeable character, though that doesn’t affect the reader’s enjoyment of the book. She’s a hard woman, difficult to get to know. Despite the fact that the reader is in her head, she keeps the reader at arm’s length, never letting anyone close to her. It’s clear that her condition frustrates her; Jennifer was one of the best hand surgeons around, proud of her work and what she had accomplished over the course of her life. To be felled by this disease, by a slow deterioration of her mind – it’s clear this is complete torture for her. A quick death would have been better instead of this unending suffering. Despite the fact that she’s never going to become the reader’s best friend, she has their sympathy from the beginning.
Though the mystery in Turn of Mind is important, it’s not the center of the story, which it might seem from the novel’s description. Instead it is Jennifer who is front and center, her mind, her thoughts, and her memories (or the lack thereof). However, the mystery is certainly very interesting. Who killed Amanda, and why? It’s clear that Jennifer had something to do with it, even if she didn’t wield the murder weapon, but what was her role? Why might she want her best friend dead? This part of the novel presents itself as a psychological thriller, except instead of racing against an unknown foe, Jennifer’s antagonist is her mental deterioration. Like a surgeon wielding her scalpel, LaPlante accomplishes this brilliantly.
Turn of Mind is a book that will stay with readers for a long time after turning its last pages. From the haunting, yet incredibly true portrayal of dementia to the overarching mystery, this is a masterful novel. It’s well-written, engaging, shocking, beautiful, and completely gripping. It’s so difficult to combine these elements well, yet LaPlante did so beautifully. Readers should look forward to seeing what this talented author produces next.