For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
Day 22, Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Someone has murdered Dr. Jennifer White’s best friend and neighbor Amanda. It is a terrible crime with an unusual element—the killer surgically removed four of Amanda’s fingers. Suspicion naturally falls on Jennifer, who is a retired orthopedic surgeon known to have a close but touchy relationship with the victim. The police are frustrated by Jennifer’s lack of cooperation—not because she’s guilty or she lawyered up, but because Jennifer has Alzheimer’s. Some days, she tries her best to answer questions and assist the police in solving her friend’s murder. Other days, she slips away from her caretaker to have coffee with Amanda because she’s forgotten Amanda is dead.
This could have been a standard thriller that rolled out a story of friends who were not always very nice to one another; a professional woman whose cognitive decline is frustrating and ironic; a mother who puts up with her adult children’s childish bickering; a widow pushed and pulled by family on finances; a well-to-do woman dependent on a caretaker who is poor, patient, kind, and sometimes badly treated by her employer’s children. This book includes all of those plus a murder that can’t be solved, despite the police’s efforts that are in turn sympathetic and bullying toward Jennifer. What elevates this book is the point of view. It is told by Jennifer, an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, who reports events as best she can in the fragments of what she remembers, sees, and understands. Or, thinks she understands. Try as she does, Jennifer can’t make her memory work, so like the police, she doesn’t know whether or not she herself is the murderer.
Why is Turn of Mind a good read for women? Make no mistake, this literary thriller is a whodunit with a twist, and giving a narrator Alzheimer’s to muck up the investigation could simply be regarded as a plot device to add intrigue and interest. This is true but the book goes deeper than that. Because this story is relayed through Jennifer herself, it makes the reader work a little harder to see and understand the subtext in the narrative. It also takes the reader into the heart and mind of a woman who is vulnerable on several levels. Can she trust her children? Can she trust her live-in caretaker? Can she trust her friends? Can she trust her doctors? Every day is a different day with new challenges, completely apart from the loss of her friend and the suspicions of the police. This book will allow you to spend a little time on the inside of a mind slipping away from a once vibrant and valuable person.