Turn of Mind Book Review

There have been plenty of books that I read that have an unreliable narrator. But in those cases, even though they may not always realize the consequences of their actions, those protagonists are mostly sound of mind. Lately, I read Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, whose protagonist has dementia and progresses into the latter stages. I don’t think I’ve encountered a voice like that in literature, but it’s worth it as long as one is patient.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante is about Dr. Jennifer White – a retired orthopedic surgeon struggling with dementia and who’s accused of killing her best friend. When her friend Amanda is found dead with four of her fingers surgically removed, Dr. White is a prime suspect. But she doesn’t know whether she committed the crime. She and Amanda were life-long friends as well as each other’s most formidable adversary. As the investigations progress and White’s relationship with her caretaker and two grown children intensify, a question remains: is her shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

One of the first things that I noticed was how disorienting the tone is. This is not a bad thing because the protagonist is experiencing dementia. Disorientation is one of the symptoms, and LaPlante captures this beautifully, especially when readers are introduced to Dr. White’s son Mark. She constantly misremembers his name, and by the time he leaves, she only sees him as a stranger. Viewing this story through Dr. White’s eyes is an ingenious idea. The only other book that I think does this is Still Alice (dang it, that’s the second time I mentioned this novel on this website, and I still haven’t read it yet), but the titular character has the early onset of this disease. Dr. White, on the other hand, is in the more advanced stages of dementia, thus losing more of a grip on reality. She can be loving at one moment and irritable and disowning her children in another. Again, LaPlante captures this authentic tone beautifully.

Apart from disease, Dr. White is a very interesting character. She is a very intelligent person who can come off as cold and egotistical, but loving at the same time. Even with dementia, she still insists on being called Dr. White while others address her like a child with names like Jen and Jenny.

Now, one is probably thinking: what you do think of the murder mystery aspect of this novel? It’s another part that makes the book stand out among others in the neurological fiction genre. While others in that category tends to focus on the consequences of having a certain disease and how it affects family, Turn of Mind adds in the murder to focus on how the disease alters that situation. I will admit that this mystery made me pay more attention to the novel because some of Dr. White’s regular ramblings can digress pretty quickly and get irritating as a result. The murder basically forces the book to have a plot, so things can actually happen. There’s a twist that kind of shocked me regarding the murder. One will have to read the book to find that out.

For those who don’t have relatives who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s best to be attentive and patient with this book. There were times, in which I zoned out while listening to this novel and when I started paying attention again, the book was in a different place than before. It doesn’t follow the linear structure of most novels, so it’s good to pay attention as much as possible.

Jean Reed Bahle – an actress and co-founder of the Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids in Grand Rapids, MI – narrates the book. She brings a Glenn Close-like energy as Dr. White, which I liked very much. There weren’t many vocal distinctions amongst the male characters, but there were some with the female characters. For example, Bahle voices Amanda with a sophistication and assertive flair that can be sinister at times (think Jane Fonda in Monster-In-Law). Another thing that made the listen interesting was that at the end of every disc, piano music would fadely play out while Bahle was still reading the book. This possibly represents how memory fades in and out with someone with Alzheimer’s. Luckily, at the start of the next disc, the passages that ended the previous one are repeated.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante may not be a book for everyone, yet its authentic voice makes it worth the read. I would recommend this novel for those who like neurological fiction and who want a little more stakes in their murder mysteries. If one chooses to read it, please be patient because the novel can go all over the place.

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Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

2 thoughts on “Turn of Mind Book Review

  1. My favorite part of your review was when you said that the murder forces the book to have a plot. That’s really a great sentence. I hope I remember it. I might borrow it.

    Liked by 1 person

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