Turn of Mind (Hardcover)
Atlantic Monthly Press, 9780802119773, 307pp.
Publication Date: July 5, 2011
July 2011 Indie Next List
— Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM
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Summer 2012 Reading Group
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Praise For Turn of Mind…
A New York Times Editor's Choice
An NPR, Vogue, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Globe and Mail Summer Reading Pick
To call Turn of Mind a thrilleror a chronicle of illness, or a saga of friendship for that matterwould 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. . . . In LaPlante’s vivid prose, [Dr. White’s] waning mind proves a prism instead of a prison, her memory refracted to rich, sensual effect. There are moments of steely, surgical calm, the language tight and fractured . . . and there are moments of blooming, antic poetry. . . . LaPlante has imagined a lunatic landscape well. The twists and turns of mind this novel charts are haunting and original.”The New York Times Book Review
"Gripping . . . Skilfull . . . Unique . . . [A] compelling whodunit . . . . LaPlante has created an unforgettable portrait of the process of forgetting."The Washington Post Book World
"Rare . . . LaPlante's fine novel is both lyrical and shocking." Boston Globe
"Remarkably poignant . . . 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 . . . LaPlante reminds us all, passionately, that no matter what the state of our health, reality can be elusive and subjective."The San Francisco Chronicle
Expertly paced . . . A stunning act of imagination.”Chicago Tribune
This book is to 2011 what Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One was to 2010the dread-filled, un-putdownable page turner. . . . Skillfully written in the memory-loss first person, the book combines murder mystery with family drama, bringing new meaning to the term psychological thriller.’”Vanity Fair
"Haunting . . . Blackly humorous . . . Remarkable . . . [Told in] the crisp, super-intelligent, and brutally confused voice of Dr. Jennifer White . . . LaPlante is certain in her footingthe verisimilitude here is unnerving . . . [as] she takes us into a world of gauzy shadows and scattered puzzle pieces."Newsday
"Daring and confident . . . A tour de force."Minneapolis Star-Tribune
This poignant debut immerses us in dementia’s complex choreography. . . . Dr. White is . . . by turns brilliant, hallucinatory, and heartbreakingly vulnerable. . . . [A] lyrical mosaic, an indelible portrait of a disappearing mind.”People (4 stars)
"This dazzlingly adroit debut novel is full of suspense, rueful humor, and scalpel-sharp insights into the intricacies of love and frienshipas well as the resilience of the human spirit." More
"A brilliant, even audacious conceit . . . Pitch-perfect."Chicago Sun-Times
"Not only was I mesmerized by LaPlante's ability to put the reader in the circumstance of a slowly evaporating ability to stay in the present, but the ending of the book was also one of the most indelible I have read in yearsI was stunned, silent, and shaken."The Daily Beast
"A heart-wrenching yet thrilling read . . . It is a mystery, thriller, medical story, family drama, and just an all-around good read."Deseret News
How does LaPlante pull a story out of [a protagonist] with no memory? In a word: deftly. . . . A clever whodunit. . . . If this portrait is correct, Jennifer is a sad but true reflection of a disease that ebbs and flows unmercifully. One minute she stares in wonder at a commonplace item like a toothbrush, the next she reacts with almost animal cunning, and the nextalmost miraculouslyshe displays the most salient facets of her former self. The novel’s ending alone will show what a long and winding road it is from confused to comatose.” The Seattle Times
Moving . . . Unusual . . . Cleverly and well written . . . I was quickly hooked.”Literary Review (UK)
[An] accomplished thriller . . . Vivid . . . Turn of Mind is an incisive, humane exploration of how we can rail against our need for close relationships with others, feeling that they undermine our independence, even as we keep going back for more.”Times Literary Supplement
"A page-turner . . . 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." Los Angeles Times
"Brilliant . . . Turn of Mind is relentless and chilling."The Globe and Mail
"The basic premise of this debut novel is pure genius . . . Masterfully written and satisfying."Shelf Awareness (starred review)
Executed with skill and elegance . . . . LaPlante’s real achievement here is creating a character whoeven in the midst of losing her mindis concrete, complicated, smart, and sympathetic. . . . Painfully sad and utterly true.”Bookreporter
"Engrossing . . . Exhilarating . . . A page-turning mystery."San Jose Mercury News
A powerfully affecting novel.”Easy Living (UK)
A highly sophisticated, exquisitely written literary thriller.”Daily Mirror (UK)
This morbidly funny page-turner will have you guessing until the end.”She (UK)
"A unique premise for a murder investigation . . . Compulsively readable . . . The mystery of the mind has surely been solved."New York Journal of Books
"Turn of Mind is one of my favorite books of the year. I can't wait to see what LaPlante comes up with next." Karin Slaughter, author of Fallen
What bumps Turn of Mind up into the exalted Daphne Du Maurier/Ruth Rendell category of literary thriller’ is LaPlante’s fearless and compassionate investigation into the erosion of her main character’s mind. . . . Turn of Mind reads as a series of fragmentary-but-illuminating first-person conversations between Dr. White and various other characters. . . . In the short space of these dialogues, Dr. White’s grip on reality fades in and out, like an iffy radio frequency and time frames collapse into each other with fluid ease. We readers become (nervously) at home in the haunted house of Dr. White’s head . . . [and] LaPlante’s turn on the suspense formula is especially ingenious because, as anxious-but-enthralled readers, we have to agree to be entrapped inside Dr. White’s crumbling mind for the duration. . . . Forgetfulness, it turns out, may be something of a mercy after all.”Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
"Heartbreaking . . . Telling the story from the point of view of a woman whose mind is slowly failing could have been gimmicky, but LaPlante completely pulls it off."Ladies' Home Journal
Impressive . . . Part mystery novel, part family drama . . . LaPlante has a gift for rhythm, crafting rat-a-tat passages that are their own pleasures. . . . It’s no small feat that LaPlante manages to spin a coherent tale despite her main character’s profound disorientation.”Entertainment Weekly
"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 noveland yet it is. I’ll read whatever LaPlante writes next, and the sooner the better.”Ann Packer
"A uniquely entertaining murder mystery. LaPlante's portrayal of the prime suspect's escalating dementia is gripping, unnerving, and utterly brilliant."Lisa Genova
The Stone Angel meets Momento in this literary page-turner. . . . Smart, strong . . . With its timely and compelling storyline, LaPlante’s debut is ambitious . . . Both an impressive technical stunt and a moving portrait of a difficult, undaunted woman.”Winnipeg Free Press
Haunting . . . [A] startling portrait of a fiercely intelligent woman struggling mightily to hold on to her sense of self. . . . 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.”Booklist (starred review)
LaPlante’s literary novel explores uncharted territory, imagining herself into a mind, one slipping, fading, spinning away from her protagonist. . . . LaPlante tells the story poignantly, gracefully, and artistically. Jennifer White, as a physician, as a wife, as a mother, leaps from the pages as a powerful character. . . . A haunting story masterfully told.”Kirkus (starred review)
This extraordinarily crafted debut novel guides the reader through family drama that is becoming all too familiar. That the author is able to do it so convincingly through the eyes and voice of [a woman with Alzheimer’s] is an amazing achievement. Heartbreaking and stunning, this is both compelling and painful to read.”Library Journal (starred review)
"Impressive . . . A subtle literary novel."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Poignant . . . It’s hard to believe that this is a first novelit’s so carefully written and satisfying in every way. . . . A masterful family drama and a thrilling murder mystery.”Valerie Ryan, Shelf Awareness
Turn of Mind blindfolds the reader and spins her around, gives her a push into a maze of echoes. Alice LaPlante’s debut is a tricky nouveau nouveau roman, rife with danger.”Stewart O’Nan
Alice La Plante's brilliantly original novel took me not simply into the life of a woman falling apart, but directly into her crumbling brain as she tries desperately to keep her sense of her own identity from slipping away. She held me there for three hundred riveting pagesand for weeks after I'd turned the last one. If one of the measures of wonderful fiction is its capacity to grant a reader access to characters and experience she might never have imagined (and I think it is), Turn of Mind surely qualifies as a masterful accomplishment.”Joyce Maynard
"Wonderful. This harrowing exploration of the slow disintegration of the mind is deeply touching and utterly heartbreaking, while also being a compelling page-turner. I loved it."S. J. Watson
Turn of Mind is that rarest of books that defies simple classification. It’s absolutely bursting at the seams with humanity, in the fullest possible array, with all of the twists and turns life can throw at us, and which we in turn hurl ourselves toward. Impossible to put down and yet from the very first page so vivid and ripe with language and comprehension that I knew this was not only a book to be savored, but returned to. Alice LaPlante offers a glorious achievement.”Jeffrey Lent
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.”Colin Harrison
As the narrator’s mind is devoured by dementia, she struggles to remember the extent of her involvement in her best friend’s murder. LaPlante’s characters are completely convincing, the plotting masterful.”Donna Leon
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- 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?
- 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 detective, and, of course, Jennifer? Which characters keep searching for the missing piece of mosaic, lost somewhere in Jennifer? Are there times when we know more than Inspector Luton does? More than Jennifer? Or are we all, characters and readers, held with hints and suspicions until the end?
- “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 unanesthesized patient” (p. 8). Jennifer in her notebook describes her life in a fog. The term “coming of age” has a new meaning in Turn of Mind. As people grow up, we expect a loss of innocence. How is the process reversed in Alzheimer’s dementia? When Jennifer is trying to identify faces, she feels less capable than a six-month-old child, trying to “separate the known from the unknown” (p. 145). We think of Shakespeare’s “Ages of Man” when Jennifer compares the unhinged despair of fellow patients to the inconsolable, howling infant Fiona with colic.
- After his riding catastrophe, Christopher Reeve lay frozen in his own body. He said to his wife, “I’m still here.” The essential Christopher was in there somewhere like the butterfly in the bell jar. Is that true of Jennifer? Which character do you think is able to see that essence the way Reeve’s wife could?
- “What crime have I committed? How long have I been incarcerated?” Think of Kafka’s The Trial or The Castle or The Metamorphosis. (Gregor, as a giant beetle, hangs on to an internal reality, but his condition is surreal. His disconnect with family and friends is undeniable.) Kafka’s characters are doomed for unknowable causes. Does Jennifer probe at guilt as a way to make sense of her fate?
- What draws Jennifer and Amanda together? What locks them in a friendship/competition like a pair of magnets that often get turned around, wrong end to? At one point, Jennifer says, “My best friend. My adversary. An enigma at the best of times. Now gone, leaving me utterly bereft” (p. 53). Asked by police about the relationship, Jennifer says, “Close, but combative. Amanda was in many ways a difficult woman” (p. 41). “You’d have to hold your own or be vanquished” (p. 45). (Does this remind us of Jennifer’s own mother?)
- What surprised you about the marriage of Jennifer and James? How well do you think you know James? James, described as a creature of darkness, is known for “keeping his own counsel on things of import” (p. 47). What were these things? Why are they important in unraveling the mysteries of the book?
- “Magdalena would like a clean slate, while I am mourning the involuntary wiping of mine” (p. 81). What is Magdalena trying to erase in her past? Is her name suggestive of her role? “I swear, sometimes I feel like I’m the one going nuts in this house” (p. 55). Is that surprising for one who is expected to be both advocate and jailer for Jennifer?
- How does Jennifer refuse to be discounted? Even paranoiac, she has power. (Or is it paranoia when indeed everyone around her is set to restrain her or to humor her—patronize her, as she says.)
- What is it about Jennifer that makes her so compelling, appealing, even? She behaves badly, outrageously, but there is a larger-than-life element in her that we admire. Give examples. Her professional competency is widely praised, but when we meet her, judgment and self-control have been suspended. Terrible odds are against her, but her wit and pluck survive. There is vitality in her whether she rails against her cursed predicament or shrewdly cuts through the cant of caretakers or officials. As a character, is Jennifer someone you just want to spend time with—at a safe distance?
- Even if you have not experienced Alzheimer’s at close hand, what is there in LaPlante’s book that speaks to us all? What is the universality of Jennifer White’s dilemma? How is it a metaphor for the human condition?
- Did you enjoy the resonance of other works in LaPlante’s book? What authors were you reminded of? Since the perspective is Jennifer’s for the most part, what do the echoes tell us about her turn of mind, her intellectual modus operandi?
- Sometimes people’s treatment of Jennifer seems to be a touchstone of their own characters. How did various hospital staff treat her? The taxi driver? People in the Italian bar? The homeless? A woman I once knew patted her Alzheimer’s husband as he was dying and said, “This is not the man I married, but I’ve learned to love this one, too.” Do Mark and Fiona show signs of this reconciliation with their mother’s condition?
- Reconciliations of all kinds seem to evaporate in Turn of Mind. It is not only Jennifer who is mercurial in the family. Talk about Mark and Jennifer, their family past and their adult lives. In the book there is a longing for order and restored harmony, but is this likely in the mayhem of an Alzheimer family? It is a world that tilts unpredictably, an image that recurs repeatedly.
- “Do no harm.” What are the ironies of the surgical amputation of Amanda’s fingers? How can one both mutilate and do good?
- What is the Russian icon? How does it, as a symbol, work on multiple levels? Describe it. What is its history to Jennifer and James, Amanda, Mark, and Fiona?
- Peter, in a prescient moment, says, “It’s those damned cicadas. . . . They make one think about Old Testament–style wrath-of-God type things” (p. 46). What are the dreadful revelations that grow more apocalyptic as they have to repeated, again and again, to Jennifer?
- Are there ways in which Jennifer is privileged in her dementia? Think of her visions, her visitations. Once, as she looks into a mirror, she says, “I don’t recognize the face. Gaunt, with too-prominent cheekbones and eyes a little too large, too otherworldly. The pupils dilated. As if used to seeing strange visions. And then, a secret satisfied smile. As if welcoming them” (p. 200). Her fantasy life is a rich one, culminating in a scene like the book of Revelation when she re-enters the hallucinatory world of Amanda’s house, finding comfort in the crowds of old friends and family. “Perhaps this is my revelation? Perhaps this is heaven? To wander among a multitude and have a name for each” (p. 95).
- Detective Luton is a linchpin for the story. How is she drawn to Jennifer, not only professionally but also personally? She says that her heart had been broken long ago, and it is being broken again with Jennifer. She sees in Jennifer a woman of quality and tries to reason with her. But Jennifer says, “The words make no sense. She is your sister, your long-lost sister. A shape-shifter. Anything is possible. . . . Who does she remind you of? Someone you can depend on” (pp. 277-278). How does the detective bring both hunches and skill to the case?
- Fiona recalls “Amanda at her worst, her supercilious morality on full display” (p. 303). What is the confrontation here between “the iconoclast and the devoted godmother” as Fiona has earlier described her?
- “Too many good-byes lie ahead. . . . How many times will I have to say good-bye to you, only to have you reappear like some newly risen Christ. Yes, better to burn the bridge and prevent it from being crossed and recrossed until my heart gives out from sheer exhaustion” (p. 114). Do we learn something new about Amanda here? Does the statement relate to her final acts? How directive is she to the end?
- “Some things shouldn’t be scrutinized too closely. Some mysteries are only rendered, not solved” (p. 198). This is Jennifer to Mark about his father, but does it have relevance to the end of Turn of Mind? Are all the mysteries, in fact, explained at the end? Are there things that still puzzle you?