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An Unfinished Book: Alice LaPlante's "Turn of Mind"
Auntie breaks down when she finds out her mother is dead.
Auntie lived with her mom until she was 49. She couldn’t cook a lick when she married, back in 1971. Now Auntie is 93, and she suffers from dementia. Her husband of 43 years, my in-laws, even her favorite nephew on the phone–we have all learned to deflect difficult questions. “We’ll go home soon.” “Mom’s not here now.”
In ten minute bites, Auntie might be mistaken for someone who’s perfectly cogent–if it was 1963. She’s a time traveler who has regressed in situ with her memories.
Dementia, From the Inside
I picked up Alice LaPlante’s oversize paperback copy ofTurn of Mind a few months ago in the Laundry Room Lending Library of my part-time residence in New York City. If I had known what the book was about, instead of toting it in my suitcase back to Montana, I might have placed it back on the shelf.
If I had known HOW the story was told, I would never have picked it up.
We’re supposed to wonder if Dr. Jennifer White, narrator and dementia victim, might have, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, forgotten that she killed her best friend.
The plot is an afterthought: Turn of Mind is one of those books where style supersedes substance and perspective wins over plot. Merciless snippets of self-examination skewer them both.
The hot iron poker is hard to wield: it takes all the air out of the plot.
Whodunit? Who Cares...
LaPlante’s debut novel is disturbing to someone like me who has a relative with dementia (and even more upsetting because, at my age, every time I forget a phone number, my internal dialogue is a less articulate but no less panicked variant of what goes on in Dr. Jennifer White’s mind–on a ‘good day’).
The pain of entering Jennifer’s brain outweighed my desire to find out whodunit. It’s a bad sign when, 90 pages into a book, I don’t care what happens: I just want to be let out.
Because I know what happens to people like Dr. Jennifer White in real life, I don’t want to read about it. This ain’t entertainment. It’s not cathartic. It just hurts.
A Lonely Bookmark
I thumbed through the pages that remained. I sighed. I pulled the bookmark like it was the pin to a grenade.
I am casting no aspersions on Alice LaPlante's way with words--in fact, her dementia victim is drawn with disturbing clarity. The plot is no more than a literary excuse, though.
I’ll read something else of yours, Alice. But when I go back to New York--if I remember--I’ll put Turn of Mind back in the laundry room.
Maybe someone who hasn’t been through the wringer will enjoy the ta-thump of this unbalanced load.