Turn of Mind

Turn of Mind

by Alice LaPlante

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Overview

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

A New York Times bestseller, Turn of Mind is a literary thriller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia and accused of killing her best friend. With unmatched patience and a pulsating intensity, Alice LaPlante's debut novel brings us deep into a brilliant woman’s deteriorating mind, where the impossibility of recognizing reality can be both a blessing and a curse.

When the book opens, Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend, Amanda, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed from her hand. Dr. White is the prime suspect and 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 adversaries. 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 hide it?

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802145901
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 501,398
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

ALICE LAPLANTE teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University, where she has a Wallace Stegner fellowship. Her accolades include a Transatlantic Review fiction prize. She has been published in Epoch, Southwestern Review, and other literary journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in Forbes ASAP, Discover and BusinessWeek. She has written four books of nonfiction. This is her first novel. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

Read an Excerpt

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 have a system. I take a sheet of lined paper. I write down notes, just like in medical school.
 
When I get confused, I read my notes. I refer back to them. I can take two hours to get through a single Tribune article, half a day to get through The New York Times. Now, as I sit at the table, I pick up a paper someone discarded, a pencil. I write in the margins as I read. These are Band-Aid solutions. The violent flare-ups continue. They have reaped what they sowed and should repent.
 
Afterward, I look at these notes but am left with nothing but a sense of unease, of uncontrol. A heavy man in blue is hovering, his hand inches away from my upper arm. Ready to grab. Restrain.
 
Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?
 
I want to go home. I want to go home. Am I in Philadelphia. There was the house on Walnut Lane. We played kickball in the streets.
 
No, this is Chicago. Ward Forty-three, Precinct Twenty-one. We have called your son and daughter. You can decide at any time from this moment on to terminate the interview and exercise these rights.
 
I wish to terminate. Yes.
 
A large sign is taped to the kitchen wall. The words, written in thick black marker in a tremulous hand, slope off the poster board: My name is Dr. Jennifer White. I am sixty-four years old. I have dementia. My son, Mark, is twenty nine. My daughter, Fiona, twenty-four. A caregiver, Magdalena, lives with me.
 
It is all clear. So who are all these other people in my house? People, strangers, everywhere. A blond woman I don’t recognize in my kitchen drinking tea. A glimpse of movement from the den. Then I turn the corner into the living room and find yet another face. I ask, So who are you? Who are all the others? Do you know her? I point to the kitchen, and they laugh. I am her, they say. I was there, now I’m here. I am the only one in the house other than you. They ask if I want tea. They ask if I want to go for a walk. Am I a baby? I say. I am tired of the questions. You know me, don’t you? Don’t you remember? Magdalena. Your friend.
 
The notebook is a way of communicating with myself, and with others. Of filling in the blank periods. When all is in a fog, when someone refers to an event or conversation that I can’t recall, I leaf through the pages. Sometimes it comforts me to read what’s there. Sometimes not. It is my Bible of consciousness. It lives on the kitchen table: large and square, with an embossed leather cover and heavy creamy paper. Each entry has a date on it. A nice lady sits me down in front of it.
 
She writes, January 20, 2009. Jennifer’s notes. She hands the pen to me. She says, Write what happened today. Write about your childhood. Write whatever you remember.
 
I remember my first wrist arthrodesis. The pressure of scalpel against skin, the slight give when it finally sliced through. The resilience of muscle. My surgical scissors scraping bone. And afterward, peeling off bloody gloves finger by finger.
 
Black. Everyone is wearing black. They’re walking in twos and threes down the street toward St. Vincent’s, bundled in coats and scarves that cover their heads and lower faces against what is apparently bitter wind.
 
I am inside my warm house, my face to the frosted window, Magdalena hovering. I can just see the twelve-foot carved wooden doors. They are wide open, and people are entering. A hearse is standing in front, other cars lined up behind it, their lights on.
 
It’s Amanda, Magdalena tells me. Amanda’s funeral. Who is Amanda? I ask. Magdalena hesitates, then says, Your best friend. Your daughter’s godmother. I try. I fail. I shake my head. Magdalena gets my notebook. She turns back the pages. She points to a newspaper clipping:
 
Elderly Chicago Woman Found Dead, Mutilated
 
CHICAGO TRIBUNE—February 23, 2009
CHICAGO, IL—The mutilated body of a seventy-five-year- old Chicago woman was discovered yesterday in a house in the 2100 block of Sheffield Avenue. Amanda O’Toole was found dead in her home after a neighbor noticed she had failed to take in her newspapers for almost a week, according to sources close to the investigation. Four fingers on her right hand had been severed. The exact time of death is unknown, but cause of death is attributed to head trauma, sources say. Nothing was reported missing from her house. No one has been charged, but police briefly took into custody and then released a person of interest in the case.
 
I try. But I cannot conjure up anything. Magdalena leaves. She comes back with a photograph.
 
Two women, one taller by at least two inches, with long straight white hair pulled back in a tight chignon. The other one, younger, has shorter wavy gray locks that cluster around chiseled, more feminine features. That one a beauty perhaps, once upon a time.
 
This is you, Magdalena says, pointing to the younger woman. And this here, this is Amanda. I study the photograph.
 
The taller woman has a compelling face. Not what you’d call pretty. Nor what you would call nice. Too sharp around the nostrils, lines of perhaps contempt etched into the jowls. The two women stand close together, not touching, but there is an affinity there.
 
Try to remember, Magdalena urges me. It could be important. Her hand lies heavily on my shoulder. She wants something from me. What? But I am suddenly tired. My hands shake. Perspiration trickles down between my breasts.
 
I want to go to my room, I say. I swat at Magdalena’s hand. Leave me be.
 
 
Amanda? Dead? I cannot believe it. My dear, dear friend. Second mother to my children. My ally in the neighborhood. My sister. If not for Amanda, I would have been alone. I was different. Always apart. The cheese stands alone.
 
Not that anyone knew. They were fooled by surfaces, so easy to dupe. No one understood weaknesses like Amanda. She saw me, saved me from my secret solitude. And where was I when she needed me? Here. Three doors down. Wallowing in my woes. While she suffered. While some monster brandished a knife, pushed in for the kill.
 
O the pain! So much pain. I will stop swallowing my pills. I will take my scalpel to my brain and eviscerate her image. And I will beg for exactly that thing I’ve been battling all these long months: sweet oblivion.
 
The nice lady writes in my notebook. She signs her name: Magdalena. Today, Friday, March 11, was another bad day. You kicked the step and broke your toe. At the emergency room you escaped into the parking lot. An orderly brought you back. You spat on him.
 
The shame.
 
This half state. Life in the shadows. As the neurofibrillary tangles proliferate, as the neuritic plaques harden, as synapses cease to fire and my mind rots out, I remain aware. An unanesthetized patient.  Every death of every cell pricks me where I am most tender. And people I don’t know patronize me. They hug me. They attempt to hold my hand. They call me prepubescent nicknames: Jen. Jenny. I bitterly accept the fact that I am famous, beloved even, among strangers. A celebrity! A legend in my own mind.
 
My notebook lately has been full of warnings. Mark very angry today. He hung up on me. Magdalena says do not speak to anyone who calls. Do not answer the door when she’s doing laundry or in the bathroom.
 
Then, in a different handwriting, Mom, you are not safe with Mark. Give the medical power of attorney to me, Fiona. It is best to have medical and financial powers of attorney in the same hands anyway. Some things are crossed out, no, obliterated, with a thick black pen. By whom?
 
My notebook again:
Mark called, says my money will not save me. I must listen to him. That there are other actions we must take to protect me. Then: Mom, I sold $50,000 worth of IBM stock for the lawyer’s retainer. She comes highly recommended for cases where mental competency is an issue. They have no evidence, only theories. Dr. Tsien has put you on 150 mg of Seroquel to curb the episodes. I will come again tomorrow, Saturday. Your daughter, Fiona.
 
I belong to an Alzheimer’s support group. People come and they go. This morning Magdalena says it is an okay day, we can try to attend. The group meets in a Methodist church on Clark, squat and gray with clapboard walls and garish primary-colored stained-glass windows.
 
We gather in the Fellowship Lounge, a large room with windows that don’t open and speckled linoleum floors bearing the scuff marks of the metal folding chairs. A motley crew, perhaps half a dozen of us, our minds in varying states of undress. Magdalena waits outside the door of the room with the other caregivers. They line up on benches in the dark hallway, knitting and speaking softly among themselves, but attentive, prepared to leap up and take their charges away at the first hint of trouble. Our leader is a young man with a social-worker degree. He has a kind and ineffectual face, and likes to start with introductions and a joke.
 
My-name-is-I-forgot-and-I-am-an-I-don’t-know-what. He refers to what we do as the Two Circular Steps. Step One is admitting you have a problem. Step Two is forgetting you have the problem.
 
It gets a laugh every time, from some because they remember the joke from the last meeting, but from most because it’s new to them, no matter how many times they’ve heard it.
 
Today is a good day for me. I remember it. I would even add a third step: Step Three is remembering that you forget. Step Three is the hardest of all.
 
Today we discuss attitude. This is what the leader calls it. You’ve all received this extraordinarily distressing diagnosis, he says. You are all intelligent, educated people. You know you are running out of time. What you do with it is up to you. Be positive! Having Alzheimer’s can be like going to a party where you don’t happen to know anyone. Think of it! Every meal can be the best meal of your life! Every movie the most enthralling you’ve ever seen! Have a sense of humor, he says. You are a visitor from another planet, and you are observing the local customs.
 
But what about the rest of us, for whom the walls are closing in? Whom change has always terrified? At thirteen I stopped eating for a week because my mother bought new sheets for my bed. For us, life is now terribly dangerous. Hazards lie around every corner. So you nod to all the strangers who force themselves upon you. You laugh when others laugh, look serious when they do. When people ask do you remember you nod some more. Or frown at first, then let your face light up in recognition.
 
All this is necessary for survival. I am a visitor from another planet, and the natives are not friendly.

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Turn of Mind 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 127 reviews.
DrDyslexia More than 1 year ago
Having a mother who passed away from dementia, this topic intrigued me and never disappointed. It is certainly a thriller and with the main character's children talking about her in the background, her declining level of awareness, the reader's knowledge of what is going on, I couldn't wait to get back to see what would happen next. At times, I felt as confused as Jennifer, the main character. I cried as I read parts of Jennifer's story, remembering what our family went through as my mother's mind lost its battle with this terrible disease. What I found at the core of LaPlante's first novel is what my family found, too - love. Somehow, the mind knows, in spite of the cobwebbed memories and great cognitive loss as well as warped friendship/s and well meaning people, love perseveres. I hope this is the first of many great novels for LaPlante; I look forward to reading more from her. I would recommend to those who want a glimpse into dementia and how this devastating disease takes its toll on not only the individual but on those around her. Book discussions would enjoy the mystery and with the 'Sandwich generation' this should generate much discussion for Baby Boomers for sure!!
theReader278 More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by Alice LaPlante and I don't regret giving it a try. The story is fantastic, the characters are very well developed. Can only recommend.
charlottesweb93 More than 1 year ago
I really, really enjoyed Turn of Mind. Alice LaPlante has done a phenomenal job of taking us into the daily life of an intelligent woman stricken with a horrible, horrible disease. We stay with Jennifer as her mind deteriorates, but it is her brief moments of clarity that give us insight into what really happened the day that Amanda was killed. Did Jennifer really murder her oldest, dearest friend, or is someone close to her taking advantage of her Dementia? Alice LaPlante has taken this murder mystery to a whole new level. If you love a good murder mystery, don't let this one pass you by!
Lannie More than 1 year ago
"Turn of the Mind" is nothing short of amazing. "Something has happened." The first line raises a question that makes it impossible not to have the reader's curiosity peeked and then on to first-person point of view of Dr. Jennifer White, herself, who is a 64 year old retired hand surgeon with a grave problem, actually two grave problems. Her mind is disintegrating with Alzheimer's and Jennifer's best friend, Amanda, who lives three houses down the street, has been murdered .. and four fingers of her hand have been amputated, obviously by the hand of a surgeon. This book is heartbreaking, haunting and chilling. Masterfully written with vivid prose, this storyline is painfully sad, but also totally electrifying. This is a gripping, compelling who-done-it with another major foreground concern, the process of forgetting and the complexity of being aware of yourself disappearing. This is a brilliant piece of work. I'm sure this book will move to bigger and better things.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written account of a woman losing her grasp of reality. Written from first person perspective, you can intimately feel what she's experiencing and thinking. Someimes the story is disjointed and can be confusing, but overall it holds up well. I would definitely recommend this book for some quick weekend reading. It has a hard hitting message about aging and mental health but isn't preachy or condescending.
Read_A_Book More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry to say that I didn't care for this novel. Told through the first person narrative of Dr. Jennifer White, the reader is given a firsthand glimpse of the rapid deterioration that dementia has on the mind. While anything other than the first person narrative would have left much to be desired within the novel, the narrative itself is extremely heartbreaking and, at times, difficult to follow. I have never met anyone with dementia, but LaPlante has created an all too real account of what it's like inside the mind of someone suffering from this disease as they rapidly go from one thought to the next, only to lose the previous one. While there is much suspense and mystery surrounding the death of Jennifer's friend Amanda, I did find the novel overly repetitive at times, which only makes sense since Jennifer is constantly relearning the same information. However, repetition of events, especially sad ones, isn't really my forte. As I like more upbeat, happy novels, this was somewhat of a downer for me, as the treatment of Jennifer by her family, along with her own lapse of memories, creates a depressing tone and left me feeling dejected in the end, especially as the deterioration of Jennifer's mind increased. However, LePlante's revelation of the murderer does make it a worthwhile read--I never saw it coming. So, if you don't mind a little repetition and sadness that accompanies dementia, then I recommend you read this novel. Two and half stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having just lost my Dad to this horrid disease, it was a chance to see perhaps how he processed thoughts. I think the author nailed it. It gave me some insight as to why he did some things and what might have been his reasonings. That said; oh, my! What twists this book took. I was pretty sure who HADN'T done it; but I never saw who HAD. There are characters that aren't very likable - that's ok; real life is populated with them as well. I didn't like the way the story turned out - perhaps wishing for a happy ending because it was a book was too much to hope for, but it was probably more realistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alice LaPlante gives us a startling glimpse into the rapidly failing memory of Dr. Jennifer White a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from Alzheimer’s and by extension a glimpse into the all too real experience of its sufferers. Currently observing a relative struggling with the disease I found LaPlante’s behavioral depictions spot on. Imagine your own memory fleeing by bits and pieces while you cannot quite remember names and/or faces of relatives and friends once dear to you. You record or have someone record your daily life in a journal in a desperate attempt to hold onto what is left of your memory. Depressing – yes – but LaPlante provides relief by introducing an exciting “who done it” murder mystery into the plot. For me the murder mystery served this purpose well yet it also oddly symbolizes the effects of the disease itself…murder, of the mind and mystery, about its causes.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Loved this book! Murder mystery, love story, and a surprise ending. Well done.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An original. Beautifully rendered story of an unraveling mind and how families, even the best ones, can have secrets to keep.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Throughly enjoyed this book. My mom has dementia and you covered many of the systems I see now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting story line.
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This was a pretty good book, some parts dragged on.
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Teach12 More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and kept me turning the pages. It was interesting to read from the prospective of the person suffering from dementia.