June 22, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Turn of Mind

Current Status
In Season
Alice LaPlante
Atlantic Monthly Press
We gave it a B+

This debut novel is something of a stunt, albeit a well-executed and technically ambitious one. The story is told from the ? perspective of Dr. Jennifer White, once an intellectually commanding orthopedic surgeon, now — and here’s the gimmick — a fast-deteriorating Alzheimer’s patient. Where is she? What year is it? Who are these people? As she’s narrating the story, White often has no ?idea what’s going on, or she’s buried in her past, carrying on dementia-muddled conversations with loved ones now departed.

Turn of Mind is part mystery novel, part family drama, and it’s no small feat that LaPlante manages to spin a coherent tale despite her main character’s profound ?disorientation. White’s best friend, Amanda, has been murdered, her fingers sliced off with suspiciously surgical precision. Did White kill Amanda? The cops think so, but she’s continually betrayed by her decaying brain: She just can’t remember. Her two grown kids, meanwhile, are alternately protective and manipulative as they grapple with their mother’s degeneration and? some difficult family history.

LaPlante has a gift for rhythm, crafting rat-a-tat passages that are their own ?pleasures. ”I brush my icy hair out of my face and keep going, but he idles his truck alongside,” White says at one point while wandering barefoot in the rain, lost. ”He takes out his phone. If he punches seven numbers, it’s okay. If he punches three numbers, it’s bad. I know that. I stop and wait. Onetwothree. He stops. He brings ? the phone to his ear.”

Strip away the flashy writing and clever narrative concept, and Turn of Mind starts to feel a bit thin. The story’s not suspenseful or surprising enough to work as a first-rate detective thriller, and the characters’? pasts emerge only in flashes amid the ?madness, dimming the emotional impact. But if the result isn’t always affecting, it’s still pretty impressive. B+

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