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Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

This was again a book that I found on NPR's summer reading recommendations and it intrigued me initially because of the subject matter. It's a cross between drama/literature and crime but it isn't really any of both - it's not a crime novel like a novel by James Patterson would be but it isn't really dramatic literature either.

The book is written from the perspective of Dr. Jennifer White. At the time of the novel, Dr. White is a 65 year old retired orthopedic surgeon - she specialized in hands - who is suffering from Alzheimer's/dementia. There are days when she's completely lucid and knows what is happening to her and days when she doesn't remember anything, including her own history, children or caretakers. She is living in the beautiful family home in Chicago with Magdalena, her caretaker and is visited occasionally by her two adult children - Mark, a lawyer and Fiona, a financial analyst and college professor.  When she didn't have the disease and in her lucid moments, Jennifer is witty, sharp and, quite frankly a brilliant doctor. She was hugely successful in her career and in her volunteer work at a medical clinic that provided free services to people without medical insurance.

The narrative, because it is told from Dr. White's perspective, mirrors the decomposition of her mind as it is decayed from the dementia. We learn that aids are employed to help her remember - a notebook that people, including Jennifer and her family and caretakers make notes in, pictures, clothing - to help her remember what happens to her from day to day and even across longer periods of time.  Quite often, Jennifer is told to just write in the notebook about anything that comes to mind - from the things that just happen to her to the things that happened to her years ago that come to her mind unprompted. Sometimes, the story jumps from memory to memory in different time periods. For instance, one moment Jennifer will be talking about what is happening to her in the present moment and then, in the next, she is back when she was young or practicing medicine.  It can be disconcerting and, sometimes, confusing; however after thinking about it, I think that the author may have intended this as a way to have us experience, ins some sense, what it must be ike to have a disease like the one that Jennifer has.

The crime plot comes out bit by bit in Jennifer's narrative - she is visited occasionally by detectives from the local police department and family members of the victim. They ask her about her friend Amanda, who was found dead.

This is a fantastic (and potentially very important) novel about the impact of dementia upon a family and an individual. The subject is treated very well - with dignity and respect but also with an eye towards education. The crime plot wasn't really all that great, but it really is ancillary to the point of the novel - an educated woman suffering from a debilitating disease. Go out and get this right away!

Comments

  1. I saw this on NPR's list, too, and added it to my own to-read list.

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