{let’s start at the very beginning}

Let’s get this party started.

Two days from now, I will be undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in my left knee. Five days ago, I graduated from the University of Denver Summer Publishing Institute. Unable to effectively job search until I recover from surgery, I solemnly pledge to document my bookish endeavors and impressions (and anything else I feel like documenting) here for your reading pleasure. Good luck to us all.

A couple of weeks ago, I read Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, and it made such an impression on me that I have, in fact, been saving it for this, my inaugural blog post. I chose Turn of Mind after seeing it pop up on multiple e-mail subscriptions and bookstore flyers as the Indie Next Pick for July.

In a nutshell, it’s told from the perspective of a woman (Jennifer) suffering from Alzheimer’s during the investigation into the murder of her best friend (Amanda), for which Jennifer herself is a suspect. The murder, however, is a secondary plotline. I thought this myself while reading, then in an interview on the Diane Rehm show, the author herself said:

At the heart of the book is—it’s a character study of Jennifer and I think she thinks of herself as having a dark core. And when she realizes a murder has been done to—and Amanda has been murdered, she can’t help but associate that darkness with the possibility she might’ve been responsible.

At the heart of the book is—it’s a character study of Jennifer and I think she thinks of herself as having a dark core. And when she realizes a murder has been done to—and Amanda has been murdered, she can’t help but associate that darkness with the possibility she might’ve been responsible.

As you might have guessed from my brief summary, the book is indeed quite dark, yet not in the way I’d’ve expected before reading. It’s not dark in the Agatha Christie/Alice in Wonderland sense of “Dear God, we’re all a little mad and you can’t trust anyone.” Nor does it have the soft velvety darkness of The Notebook/The Time Traveller’s Wife, as an outsider watches a loved one fading in and out of life uncontrollably.

The darkness of Turn of Mind comes, as LaPlante implied, from Jennifer’s character. A former surgeon, she’s incredibly clinical and controlling, even in the clutches of dementia. Her behavior in relationship is hyper-rational, her sense of humor slightly acrid. Even her fear that she might have something to do with Amanda’s murder is held below the surface, never allowed to emerge and embarrass her.

I rather disliked almost every character in this book. Usually, this is a dealbreaker for me, since I cannot muster up the energy to care about people I dislike, and therefore become incredibly bored before finishing the book. However, the unique narrative structure kept me hooked. LaPlante drew from personal experience with family members with Alzheimer’s to write this novel—although she is adamant that the story is in no way based on real events or people—and I can only imagine how difficult it must’ve been to write, given that the first-person narrator has very little sense of cohesion or chronology.

Yet the book remains a page-turner; unlike Benjy’s portion of The Sound and the Fury, the narration is easily understood.

What do you think? Do you read books with characters you dislike? What do you think about reading a first-person narrator who has dementia?

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2 responses

  1. I’m with you; I have a hard time reading about characters I dislike – I usually lose interest if I feel I can’t root for any of the characters. I’m of the mind that, if a character must be unlikeable, then they’d better have a really fascinating personality, or else I’m going to resent them for the entire book.
    I’ve never read a book that contains a character with dimensia/alzheimer’s, but I’m very intrigued by the idea. It would have to be done masterfully well for an author to pull it off, or else it would all be too confusing. There are some really interesting possibilities for such a character, though! It’d definitely be worth exploring books that have them.

    • the characters in Turn of Mind definitely are fascinating (umm… a narrator with Alzheimer’s comes to mind), and i think that’s what hooked me. i’m usually a complete sucker for good characters—i could barely get through “Juno” simply because i didn’t like ellen page’s character.

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