Summary and book reviews of Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind

by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2011, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2012, 320 pages

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Book Summary

A stunning first novel, both literary and thriller, about a retired surgeon with dementia who clings to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame and unspeakable loss.

Turn of Mind, a literary page-turner about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia and accused of killing her best friend, was a New York Times hardcover bestseller and named a Best Book of the Year by Newsday, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Kirkus Reviews.

When Dr. Jennifer White's best friend, Amanda, is found dead with four of her fingers surgically removed, Dr. White is the prime suspect. But she herself doesn't know whether she did it. Told in White's own voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between these life-long friends—two proud, forceful women who were at times each other's most formidable adversary. As the investigation into the murder deepens and White's relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers: is White's shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, Turn of Mind is a remarkable debut that examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence.

ONE

Something has happened. You can always tell. You come to and find wreckage: a smashed lamp, a devastated human face that shivers on the verge of being recognizable. Occasionally someone in uniform: a paramedic, a nurse. A hand extended with a pill. Or poised to insert a needle.

This time, I am in a room, sitting on a cold metal folding chair. The room is not familiar, but I am used to that. I look for clues. An office-like setting, long and crowded with desks and computers, messy with papers. No windows.

I can barely make out the pale green of the walls, so many posters, clippings, and bulletins tacked up. Fluorescent lighting casting a pall. Men and women talking; to one another, not to me. Some wearing baggy suits, some in jeans. And more uniforms. My guess is that a smile would be inappropriate. Fear might not be.

I can still read, I'm not that far gone, not yet. No books anymore, but newspaper articles. Magazine pieces, if they're short enough. I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. What is the time span of the novel? Were you clear about the flashbacks in Jennifer's memory? Even in her surreal perceptions, is she still working out the past in the stories of James, Mark, Fiona, Amanda, and Peter? What about Dr. Tsu? Is the past really the past in Turn of Mind?


  2. Would the story have worked as well if it had been told chronologically? Why, or why not? Consider the overlays of memory of all the characters. Do they provide double or triple exposures? The book is a memoir, a case history, and a mystery. "Something just wasn't right about this from the beginning, she says, nothing fit." (p. 278). How does the mystery reflect Jennifer's condition? Does the ground keep shifting, for the reader, the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Turn of Mind. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

"Do no harm." What are the ironies of the surgical amputation of Amanda's fingers?
I agree with the others in that there is no harm done to a body...the harm done is in removing the clue that would have truly solved the death. - sweeney

Alice LaPlante answers questions about Turn of Mind
Erin G. asks: Some have mentioned that Jennifer is not a very likable character, and Amanda even less so. Did you like your characters? How did you feel about them? I realize that either (or both) characters might not to be to everyone's taste. ... - Alice LaPlante

Are all the mysteries, in fact, explained at the end?
I also agree with the comments on the rushed ending. However, it didn't upset me, I guess because of the dementia premise. My understanding was not only was Amanda going to reveal where the money came from...but that this would result in those ... - sweeney

Are there times when we know more than Inspector Luton does? More than Jennifer?
Throughout the book we know more than Jennifer but the progression of her Alzheimer's makes this more evident. I think that she tried to supress some of the thoughts surrounding the death of her friend, and some of the flashbacks were certainly NOT ... - shirleyf

Are there ways in which Jennifer is privileged in her dementia?
Certainly her affluence makes her somewhat privileged in her dementia, allowing her to live at home with care. - connieh

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This was truly a book I couldn't put down, read in two sittings on the eve of the first anniversary of my mother's death from Alzheimer's complications. I had only brief glimpses of what my mother's reality was like as I tracked her decline from a distance. This book filled in the blanks for me - at alternating times tearful, joyful, and humorous. The writing is so skillfully done that the story flowed seamlessly from beginning to end. I'll remember this book not only for the writer's expertise but also for bringing me greater understanding of the last years of my mother's life (Judy G).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Boston Globe

Rare... LaPlante's fine novel is both lyrical and shocking.

San Francisco Chronicle

Artful, ambitious, and arresting.

Vanity Fair

[An] un-putdownable page turner... Combines murder mystery with family drama, bringing new meaning to the term 'psychological thriller.'

The Washington Post Book World

Gripping... Skillful... Unique... [A] compelling whodunit... LaPlante has created an unforgettable portrait of the process of forgetting.

The New York Times Book Review

To call Turn of Mind a thriller - or a chronicle of illness, or a saga of friendship for that matter - would confine it to a genre it transcends. This is a portrait of an unstable mind, an expansive, expertly wrought imagining of memory’s failures and potential. ...Vivid ...Haunting and original.

San Jose Mercury News

Engrossing... Exhilarating... A page-turning mystery.

Chicago Sun-Times

Brilliant... Pitch-perfect.

More

This dazzlingly adroit debut novel is full of suspense, rueful humor, and scalpel-sharp insights into the intricacies of love and friendship - as well as the resilience of the human spirit.

Los Angeles Times

Creates a startling range and texture of fear. From agonizing, slow-motion-car-crash moments to the ironic frissons of a good horror movie, [LaPlante] hits every bell. ...The complexity never fades... The razor sharp quality of [Jennifer's] thoughts, even at their most fragmented, gives her entire ordeal a Twilight Zone feel. Up until the final stages of the disease, she still somehow manages to retain the quality of a lone sane person adrift in a world that definitely isn't.

People

This poignant debut immerses us in dementia's complex choreography. ...[A] lyrical mosaic, an indelible portrait of a disappearing mind. 4 Stars.

Chicago Tribune

A stunning act of imagination.

The Daily Beast

One of the most indelible I have read in years - I was stunned, silent, and shaken.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Heartbreaking and stunning, this is both compelling and painful to read.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Mystery fans should be prepared for a subtle literary novel in which the unfolding of Jennifer's condition and of her past matters far more than the whodunit.

Booklist

Starred Review. Haunting... This masterfully written debut is fascinating on so many levels, from its poignant and inventive depiction of a harrowing illness to its knowing portrayal of the dark complexities of friendship and marriage.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A haunting story masterfully told.

Author Blurb Colin Harrison, author of Afterburn and Risk
Hey readers, Alice LaPlante has arrived. Turn of Mind features a crazy-smart narrator in a gripping family drama that is itself a brilliant murder mystery. LaPlante possesses both the wild audacity to attempt such a tour-de-force and the pure talent to pull it off. Totally compelling, dark and yet at moments also darkly funny, completely unforgettable. Lord knows what LaPlante will write next. I can't wait.

Author Blurb Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier.
An electrifying book, impossible to put down. Gripping, thought-provoking, humane, funny, tragic, it is masterfully done, a tour de force that can't be a first novel - and yet it is. I'll read whatever LaPlante writes next, and the sooner the better.

Reader Reviews

Suzanne G.

Engaging book
An engaging book! An orthopedic surgeon suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Her best friend is dead. Did Jennifer commit a crime and murder her? The book searches thoughts and actions of those troubled by dementia and the problems of family members ...   Read More

Dorothy T.

Engrossing novel
This is a combination of murder mystery and a psychological examination of declining memory due to the ravages of Alzheimer's and its effects on the patient and those around her. The novel is written in an innovative style, partly based on the ...   Read More

Karen R

Hard to put down!
A riveting story of a highly accomplished woman, Dr. Jennifer White, succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. The writing style is original; the story told thru Dr. White's eyes, whose reality changes from day to day, minute to minute. It is...   Read More

Karen R

Riveting!
A riveting story of a highly accomplished woman, Dr. Jennifer White, succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. The writing style is original; the story told thru Dr. White's eyes, whose reality changes from day to day, minute to minute. It is...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Alzheimer's Disease & Alice LaPlante

Alzheimer's Disease
For more information about Alzheimer's, see the backstory to Still Alice.

Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante's debut novel, Turn of Mind has received an overwhelming amount of praise and has been selected by Indie Booksellers for the July 2011 Indie Next List.

Though this is her first novel, LaPlante is certainly no stranger to writing. For over 20 years she has worked as an award-winning journalist, a corporate editorial consultant (for IBM, HP, Oracle, Microsoft, Sun, Deloitte, Symantec, and Palm, among others), and has taught writing at the university level. She has written for Forbes ASAP, BusinessWeek, ComputerWorld, InformationWeek, and Discover, in addition to many other national publications, and she ...

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