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Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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A-TurnMindThe author of Method and Madness: The Making of a Story: A Guide to Writing Fiction (2008), writing professor Alice LaPlante now turns her gaze on disease, memory--and murder. Turn of Mind is LaPlante's first novel.

The Story: My name is Dr. Jennifer White. I am sixty-four years old. I have dementia. When Dr. Jennifer White's lifelong friend and neighbor, Amanda O'Toole, is found murdered with four fingers missing, White, a recently retired and widowed orthopedic surgeon, becomes the prime suspect. And who can blame the police? The doctor's mind ravaged by Alzheimer's, she has no idea whether or not she committed the crime. In reconstructing the events of her life, White details lives that perhaps weren't what they seemed: an unfaithful husband, children with their own agendas and issues, a best friend who both comforted her and competed with her. On the verge of losing touch entirely, she (with the occasional help of her children) keeps a notebook to maintain her tenuous grasp on day-to-day life. Narrating her story through the distorted lens of her disease, White explores the transience of memory and secrets, the nature of love and friendship, and the shifting, illusory realities that define us all.
Atlantic Press. 320 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780802119773

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A page-turner is exactly what Alice LaPlante has crafted with Turn of Mind, a novel told from the point of view of a woman with dementia. LaPlante manages to take hold of the aforementioned dread and modulate it, creating a startling range and texture of fear." Etelka Lehoczky

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"To call Turn of Mind a thriller--or a chronicle of illness, or saga of friendship, for that matter--would confine it to a genre it transcends. ... LaPlante, a veteran teacher of writing and the author of the aptly titled Method and Madness: The Making of a Story, has imagined that lunatic landscape well." Zoe Slutzky

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Turn of Mind is an artful, ambitious and arresting attempt to capture the thoughts and feelings, by turns confused, conspiratorial, canny and clear, of a person in the throes of mental illness. ... Assembled piece by piece, in no particular chronological or spatial order, like a jigsaw puzzle, LaPlante's portrait of the formidable and faltering Jennifer White and her relationship with the forbidding Amanda O'Toole is remarkably poignant." Glenn C. Altschuler

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"While it is tempting to see this as an open-and-shut case, LaPlante skillfully sows enough doubt to keep us guessing. ... Set alongside this adroitly handled murder mystery is a second narrative, one that proves every bit as compelling as the whodunit." Stephen Amidon

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Turn of Mind is part mystery novel, part family drama, and it's no small feat that LaPlante manages to spin a coherent tale despite her main character's profound disorientation. ... Strip away the flashy writing and clever narrative concept, and Turn of Mind starts to feel a bit thin." Rob Brunner

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Weaving the existential mystery of dementia with the contrived mystery of a murder plot, [the author] takes us into a world of gauzy shadows and scattered puzzle pieces. ... The solution to the mystery is a little awkward, perhaps a little amateurish--but the way in which it is revealed is remarkable." Marion Winik

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For us, the supposedly normal, seeing the truth through the scrim of an unreliable perspective makes the story more layered and, paradoxically, its meaning clearer. ... Turn of Mind probes a range of topics, not thoroughly but with insight." Ellen Emry Heltzel

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Because it offers clarity and beautifully packaged aphorisms regarding a terrifying unknown, I suspect Turn of Mind will prove very popular. But that doesn't make its tidy conclusions true any more than it means LaPlante has answered the thorny questions her novel is courageous enough to ask." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

As evidenced by her vocation as a writing instructor at Stanford (where she was also a Wallace Stegner Fellow) and at San Francisco State, Alice LaPlante has a pro's sense of fiction technique and draws the reader in with intricate plotting, an attractive hook, and wonderful turns of phrase (both Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time come to mind). Turn of Mind works as a thriller, a family drama, and an examination of the horrors of dementia, but the overall effect is that those intertwined threads compete for oxygen. Still, LaPlante's debut is ambitious and poignant. Her perceptive portrayal of the degeneration of a brilliant intellectual mind by a wasting--and ultimately fatal disease--will resonate with readers, many of whose own lives have been (or will be) touched by Alzheimer's.