Monday, September 12, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press ISBN 978-0802119773
Hardcover, $24
I wasn't sure that I would like Alice LaPlante's debut novel, Turn of Mind. The main character, Jennifer, is a middle-aged surgeon suffering from early onset Alzheimer's. When her neighbor and long-time best friend Amanda is brutally murdered, Jennifer is the main suspect.

I was concerned that the story would exploit the diagnosis of Alzheimer's as a convenient plot device for a standard murder mystery. It is very sad to see Alzheiemr's rob someone of herself, and I didn't know whether the author would be respectful of that or not. The situations that Jennifer runs into will be familiar to anyone who has a family member suffering from this debilitating disease.

The novel is told from the first-person point of view, like Lisa Genova's brilliant novel about a female researcher suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, Still Alice. That novel was one of my favorites in recent years, and while this book did not move me as much, the added angle of the murder mystery is expertly woven within the storyline of a character who may have committed a horrible crime, but doesn't remember.

Jennifer is not a warm woman; she spent most of her life building a career. She had two grown children: Mark, a son who has persistent money problems, and Fiona, a daughter who has spent the last twenty years looking for herself. Her husband James is dead.

Jennifer and Amanda had a complicated relationship. As the story unravels, we see that Amanda had a cruel streak, and Jennifer remembers things that Amanda did to purposefully hurt her. Is is possible that she really did kill Amanda and expertly sever her finger?

In order to keep things straight, Jennifer has been writing in a journal things that happen each day. When friends and family come to visit, they write in the book as well. When she gets confused, she can read the journal to see what she has forgotten. Jennifer's caretaker also urges her to write about the herself, to tell her own story.

A female detective has doubts that Jennifer is the murderer, but she is a good detective and will follow the case where the evidence leads. She is respectful of Jennifer and her illness, but dogged in her pursuit of justice. I liked her character.

Turn of Mind turns the murder mystery genre on its head. The story is told by a narrator made unreliable by Alzheimer's, a woman who can remember things from her past, but not whether she killed her best friend. If she didn't do it, who did? The conclusion to the mystery may be predictable, but not very satisfying.

This is a well-written novel, one that slowly weaves its story, and the fact that we only see the characters from Jennifer's point of view, adds to the mystery.

rating 4 of 5



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