Saturday, June 4, 2011
The book that slipped into my bag was the one those at the Grove/Atlantic booth shared after I asked what title on their list was creating the most buzz. Turn of Mind, they said, without a second's hesitation. A debut novel by Alice LaPlante that has apparently had the booksellers exclaiming for months.
Mind is about murder and dementia. It's about the death of a retired orthopedic surgeon's best friend. Who killed Amanda and why? Will Dr. Jennifer White remember—can she remember—if she had anything to do with her neighbor's murder and mutilation? What do the notes she's been keeping reveal? What do the medications being foisted on her do to her ability to see and clarify what might have been? And who are all these people moving in and out of her present life? Were they loved? Did they love her? What is real?
It's truly terrifying territory. Jennifer White is an educated, skilled, respected woman who has, it is revealed in pieces, lived a strangely smudgy life. Her family life hasn't been what it might have seemed. Her relationship with Amanda is anything but straightforward. There's real anger here, real messiness, real cause for distrust—and yet. The murder of Amanda was meticulously carried out, and Dr. Jennifer White has long since moved beyond meticulous.
How is it that a woman can lose herself and still retain some self-querying aspects of her wit? How can she know and not know at the same time? I found myself marveling at LaPlante's audacity as an author—at her ability to construct this mind, now so slippery and unstable, and to see this complex plot all the way through.
The book is told, as it must be told, in a succession of fragments—a line or two or three of something remembered or something right now, then white space. It recalled for me Carole Maso's groundbreaking Ava, which captures the morning, noon, and later day of a dying woman's final moments.
[I just googled Ava to see if it is still in print and found that one can read it on line. I am amazed by this, but there it is. An unexpected sidenote for this blog post.]
I suspect that the booksellers are right: Turn of Mind will have readers emphatically talking, bloggers opining, book club members up late at night. It's a chilling story. Dementia is chilling. LaPlante brings its fog and smear to vivid, shivering life.