No, I don’t shoplift decorative spoons or collect Beanie Babies. I have a compulsion to write things down.
I’ve had people tell me they think it’s great that I chronicle the (often boring) events in my life. When I turned 30, I realized I was journaling because I was afraid I wouldn’t remember anything. I worry I’ll start forgetting the things that are good and only remembering the bad. Isn’t that the way it always goes?
In Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind we meet Dr. Jennifer White, a 64-year-old retired surgeon sinking into dementia. She keeps a notebook of things she knows she’ll forget in a few days or even hours. Her live-in caregiver Magdalena writes in the notebook as well, writing both to herself and to Jennifer.
You had a good day today. You remembered your children’s names.
Woven throughout this tale of Jennifer’s descent into dementia is the story of Jennifer’s longtime friend, Amanda, who is found dead in her home. Four of Amanda’s fingers have been cut off with surgical precision. Suspicion falls on Jennifer, whose specialty was the hand. Detectives, and even her own children, start to believe Jennifer had something to do with Amanda’s murder. Jennifer’s encroaching dementia makes her unable to remember anything. In moments of clarity, Jennifer questions where she was the night Amanda died.
I have always wondered if people in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s realize what’s happening. Is it just a nagging feeling that they should know an answer to a simple question? Is there a nauseating fear that their brain is betraying them and there’s nothing they can do to stop it?
In Turn of Mind, Jennifer is aware of what is happening to her. From page one we see her struggling against a disease that is eating away her memories. She is one of the strongest female characters I’ve come across in a while. I find myself still thinking about her days after finishing the novel. It’s a work of fiction but I find myself wondering if Dr. White flips through her notebook to remember her dead husband. I wonder if it’s a shock to see her own handwriting and remember that he’s been dead for over a year.
Turn of Mind is a mystery. It’s also a chronicle of someone who spends every waking minute with a foot in the world of memory and the world of right now. I’ll warn you that this novel is not a light and fun read. But I can guarantee that you’ll be drawn in from the first sentence.