Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: 'Turn of Mind' by Alice LaPlante

I feel obligated to give this book a minimum of 4 stars, and I'll tell you why.

Turn of Mind is about Dr. Jennifer White, a 64-year-old retired orthopedic surgeon who is suffering from Alzheimer's. She is deteriorating more and more every day, and to make matters worse, she is being accused of the murder of her best friend and neighbor, Amanda O'Toole, who was found dead with four fingers surgically removed: an extremely precise procedure. The entire book is told from Jennifer's perspective; from the notebook where she keeps daily logs of her thoughts as her mind slowly but surely is turning on her. To quote the blurb, What if the perfect crime is the one you can't remember?

Turn of Mind
is an extremely impressive novel, let me just say that. The reader really gets a sense of Jennifer's condition because the story is told entirely from her perspective, but at the same time, we cannot tell what is happening because we are just as confused as she is. This has to be one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator that I've ever seen. Often times, the prose was so confusing, and I think that was the author's intent: to make the reader just as confused as Jennifer is. LaPlante is also extremely skilled at giving us a sense of what it's like inside the mind of someone who is slowly losing her memories and, by extension, her mind. It also begs the question to the reader: was Jennifer a violent person? Would she perhaps have had perfect motive to murder her supposed best friend? Jennifer doesn't know the answers to the questions, so neither do we, and from a literary standpoint, this is incredibly intriguing and well done storytelling. It reminded me of a twisted version of Lisa Genova's Still Alice.

However, I felt that having the story be told entirely from Jennifer's incredibly unreliable and confusing perspective was a bit of a mistake. Even though it's clear that it was the author's intent to have the prose be confusing, for both aesthetical and storytelling purposes, it made Turn of Mind a tad boring and too hard to comprehend at times. Often times, we see Jennifer rambling on about a memory that she has flashes of that day, and we cannot tell if this will have any relevance to the mystery surrounding what happened to Amanda O'Toole. I'm not saying this wasn't a good way of having the story play out, but LaPlante could have rounded out the narrative by having the perspective shift perhaps to Amanda's perspective, perhaps before she died, or Jennifer's grown children, Fiona and Mark, who she begins to not even recognize. That way, the reader could have had a bit more control at knowing what the hell is real and what the hell is not, because let me tell you, it was often impossible to tell what was going on at some parts. You really have to pay attention to make sure you can have some semblance of what Jennifer is trying to tell in her dazed state. Not only that, it just got a bit repetitive and exhausting to read after awhile and the reader could have gotten a bit of a break from the intentionally confusing prose during Jennifer's narration.

But, as a result of the book being told only from Jennifer's perspective, Turn of Mind is very fast paced. I read it in only a few sittings (perhaps because there are no chapter breaks, just three different parts, so perhaps I kept reading thinking the chapter would soon end). Overall, however, I must commend LaPlante because, figuratively speaking, this book is very impressive, as I said. It combines the emotional turmoil of losing yourself and the life you've built while also having your reader question was she violent enough to commit such a crime? Why would she have done such a thing to someone she called her best friend? LaPlante also accomplishes an excellent use of the unreliable narrator while also managing to intentionally confuse her reader to emphasize the story's unanswered questions. She could have just balanced out this unique prose and style by shifting the perspective to someone who is not so unreliable, even just once, to give the narrative more structure, so to say. 4/5 stars.

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