I always look forward to the spring book award season as a way to see what is deemed excellent in local and state-wide publishing. This year both the California Book Awards, selecting from California writers, and the Northern California Book of the Year Awards, selected by the Independent Booksellers Association, chose the same fiction title: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante.
This is an absolutely mesmerizing portrayal of a women struggling with the onset of dementia. Ostensibly a mystery – the woman next door was beaten to death – it is a literary novel whose protagonist moves between lucid and deteriorating states of mind. At the heart of the story is retired surgeon Jennifer White. Her son wants her to be declared mentally incompetent so he can manage her money, her daughter has other problems, and the family drama is realistically portrayed as the three cope with changes in their lives.
The book captivated me because the writing is clear and engaging. The horrors of dementia are very real to many families today, thus it would not appear to be fodder for entertainment. LaPlante’s ability to move the reader into a mind that is losing its grip on reality transcends the generalizations, and her movement between Jennifer’s mind in past and present is startling and unexpected. This is a book that remained with me long after I finished the last page, and I recommend this for book group discussion.