Motes of Memories, Smoted Lives: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

The main character of Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is losing her memories, a woman in her mid-sixties who has Alzheimers.  Forced to retire from the career she loved, as a highly-regarded hand surgeon, Dr. Jennifer White is struggling to retain what she can, how she can, with the support of family and friends.  But support is not always what it appears to be, and when Jennifer’s best friend Amanda is found murdered, with the fingers of her hands neatly severed, the question of Jennifer’s role in the crime turns her family’s already burdened relationships of guilt, resentment, and greed into a struggle; a struggle for the facts hidden in Jennifer’s mind and for the shell containing that mind, the person that used to be Jennifer but is slowly being lost to the disease that is Alzheimers.

Turn of Mind is a great book.  Told almost entirely from the point of view of Jennifer, Alzehimer’s is presented in all its very real horror, without any pathos or bathos.  Jennifer’s observations of the people around her, and her flashbacks of memories to her own parents, to her early marriage and years as a young mother, and to moments in the very complicated friendship she had with Amanda, set up a gripping plot that revolves around the question of what is is that we lose when we lose our memories: we lose not only knowledge of ourselves, but of everyone around us, and without knowing who people are, what are the delineations — the boundaries and the expectations — of those relationships?

This great book, rich with the goodness of human possibilities but also unsparing in its depiction of our worst characteristics of selfishness, insecurity, and meanness, will remain with you long after you’ve read it, its themes and characters revolving around and around in your mind. Turn of Mind is also a great selection for book group discussion, as it is sure to spark lively debates over friendship, motherhood, illness, long-term care, and preservation of dignity in the face of loss of that which makes us unique in ourselves: our memories.


Thank you to the Read All Day reader who recommended Turn of Mind to me.  You know who you are —  I am very appreciative!