Skip to main content

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!


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


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

In Memoriam

One of my most favorite bookish podcasts, Books on the Nightstand, has ended its tremendously successful run.  It has been around seemingly forever and was one of my staples in book recommendations. It will be sorely missed and leaves a space in my podcast listening zone that I'm striving to fill.  While I understand that the podcast em-cees, Michael and Anne, have their own lives that they probably want to continue with (and podcasting takes a lot of time, particularly when you're as popular as they are and, for example, as popular as the Manic Mommies are/were), they will be sorely missed.  However you can find them on both Goodreads and on Twitter.

In anticipation of their ultimate decision to end the podcast, I found a number of other really awesome podcasts to fill the void, some of which are bookish and some of which aren't.  For your listening pleasure:

BookRiot - more of a news in the publishing industry podcast but still pretty awesome;All the Books - a weekly po…

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

I was hesitant to pick up Justin Cronin's trilogy, which began with The Passage, because I was vampired out.  But it's different. It combines science fiction and westerns and spans about 1500 pages and 1000 years and generations, upon generations of people.  It's dystopian and hopeful all at the same time! The vampires don't sparkle, thankfully, and the story isn't just told in prose - it's told via letters, journals, scientific journals, flashback, the whole nine yards.
As the book opens, we find our beloved characters in a time of peace and relative prosperity.  There have been no viral attacks for twenty years. The main characters are all struggling with something that has broken them and they each struggle. And there was also Zero, the ultimate bad guy, that wants his say and his ultimate revenge. This book is wonderful in the sense that it is Cronin at his absolute best - he is a storyteller on par with perhaps the best of the fantasy writers - of any w…

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'll be honest - this wasn't the first time that I had read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The last time I read it was 9 years ago, right after my son was born - I can't believe that it has been out for that long. I'm glad that I re-read it now, because I found myself in a place where I could relate more to Ms. Gilbert and her experiences.

At the start of this book, we learn that the author is not in a good place. It's the middle of the night, she's on her bathroom floor sobbing and her marriage is literally going down the toilet. She enters quickly into another relationship that is very stressful for her and ultimately very heartbreaking. She was hurt, depressed and anxious. In order to heal, she decided to spend one year of her life traveling in order to get to know herself.  For the first third of the year, Ms. Gilbert spent time in Italy. For the middle third, Ms. Gilbert spent her time in India and in the last third, she went to Bali.

I really enjo…