The prime suspect, Dr. Jennifer White, suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s. Her best friend, Amanda, has been murdered. The story is told completely from Jennifer’s point-of-view, a daunting task taken on by the author but so deftly handled that you cannot help but feel you are experiencing dementia first-hand as you navigate the prose through the troughs of a destroyed mind.
The fact that Jennifer is a renowned orthopedic surgeon somehow makes the story all the more tragic and Alzheimer’s even more horrifying. That a mind of such strength and conditioning could succumb to the disease’s virulence seems unfathomable. No one is safe–and that is chilling.
Jennifer’s narration is fragmented, shattered–like a full-length mirror dropped from a great height. Yet among the confusing mental shards lie moments of lucidity that offer glimpses into Jennifer’s life as well as subtle clues regarding the murder itself. Though Jennifer can no longer recognize her family and friends, we come to know them intimately through the rich character development that Ms. LaPlante crafts out of what appear to be disconnected thoughts, memories, and dialogue. We also learn about the person Jennifer was before the onset of disease. At times I disliked her very much, even finding moments when my compassion for her waned.
Looming phantom-like throughout the story is our victim, Amanda. We slowly glean the complexity of Amanda’s relationship with Jennifer and her family as decades of secrets, lies, loyalties and resentments surface. But could it all lead to murder? Perhaps.
Turn of Mind was a thrill to read and unpredictable to the end. It’s that kind of story you replay in your mind, long after the book is done.
Alice LaPlante is a Bay Area author who teaches Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University. Turn of Mind is her debut novel. I selected this book because of the author’s local connections and I’m so glad I did. I think her students are in very good hands.