Pit a narcissistic genius against a three-headed green monster named jealousy and you have hand surgeon, Dr. Jennifer White, and pseudo-friend Amanda O’Toole, “who out-vultures the vultures.”
Thirty-mile per hour winds and forty-two degree temperatures blew Chicago, the setting for our book selection, into the Pinnacle Club on this Veterans Day as 17 Bookers met at the home of Daryl Daniels to discuss Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante.
The author teaches creative writing at Stanford and San Francisco State University. She, her eighty-year old father, and seven siblings have been witnessing for ten years the cruelty of Alzheimer’s with her Mother now in the late stages of the disease. She’s witnessed firsthand the contradiction of dementia and Alzheimer’s with the phases of deterioration and lucidity and the personality changes. Her mother was a warm, kind, patient woman, but when she got ill, “she became aggressive…she’s very angry at my father.” Ms. LaPlante had no need to research for this novel. “I’ve been writing about my mother for a long time.”
Do we undeniably know what goes on in anyone’s mind much less one that is slipping away? Ms. LaPlante is more likely to expound on the issue than those who have not met this debilitating disease. As a fiction writer, she’s inviting us to trust her inventiveness and insightfulness along an odyssey of personal heartbreak.
Bernie Crudden assessed the book by giving us some backstory. On her first reading, she didn’t like the book at all, the second reading merited the same response, so in place of a reiterating the story, she detailed the issues she had with it, opening the pros and cons of discussion.
Style of writing: Confusing and scattered
Characters: The narrator, Jennifer, was not sympathetically written; lost interest in the characters; no one to root for. Out of the eight primary characters, all were unkind, unpleasant people.
Plot: Clever, but gimmicky, full of clichés. Plot underdeveloped with no feeling or compassion; Like a mental hall of mirrors.
Thirteen Bookers sided with Bernie’s take on the novel commenting: Resented the author’s desire to write a book about this disease and saddling the victim of Alzheimer’s with a murder was cruel; We’d like to understand the disease in a more positive light such as in Still Alice; The insight was too close to recent personal issues; It was depressing especially for our age group; The author dropped the ball on character development; Should have been rated dark maroon instead of red; There was no point to the book; I didn’t learn anything about Alzheimer’s disease; It may have been more pertinent to those with personal experience with the disease; I was looking for someone to love and couldn’t find anyone.
Many thanks to Bernie for tackling this project. It’s a difficult task to speak of a book that doesn’t speak to you.
Four on the other side of the coin offered: The author wrote the book with blazing speed and the style of writing, although confusing at times, reflected the mindset of the unreliable narrator, suffering from Alzheimer’s; The characters were not in the least likeable – Jennifer a narcissistic genius, who lives in a world of self-gratification; her husband James identifies with a plant that grows in the dark and feeds off the fungus and trees around it letting others do the hard work; her daughter Fiona, a young tenure-track professor of economics with a rattlesnake and marijuana plant tattoos; her son, Mark, a lawyer with “a dark aura” on whom the rattlesnake tattoo would be appropriate; her foul-weather, jealous, manipulative, friend Amanda who could spot a carcass before it begins to rot; Likeable characters – no, interesting dinner companions, maybe if you’re into personality profiling. Some plot points were left open-ended, but overall the portrait of an unstable mind overtook the shortcomings of the subplots. Everyone’s mind lapses for a split-second…think about the mind as a warehouse full of file cabinets – the older we get the more crowded the warehouse becomes and it takes us a little longer to find what we’re looking for – with dementia you lose the file cabinets themselves; as a caretaker you need to function in their world; we know that when we leave this world we’ll be departing in a different state than the one in which we were born; control what you can when you can.
The novel received over three hundred 4.5 to 5 star reviews, but an underlying negative comment was visible in some cases, and that was the dislike of all of the characters. MN and I agree, but what intrigued us were the distinct personality profiles of each character. Those consistent behavioral patterns directed all relationships and interactions between the characters. As a footnote, the author didn’t know “who done it” until fifty pages from the end.
On the business side:
Our group had a lengthy discussion about book reviews and some are of the opinion that retelling a book they have just read is not necessary – they would prefer someone to offer a personal insight on the selection in order to foster the discussion. Others appreciate a synopsis, followed by the group’s input. It’s always been up to the individual volunteering to decide on the format and it will continue in that manner.
Garth Stein’s new novel, A Sudden Light, published in September received solid reviews on Amazon. It revolves around a family returning to home – then add a ghost to the mix.
The HBO series, Olive Kitteridge, based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a winner. Frances McDormand as Olive is spot-on. A DVD will be released soon.
Mark your calendars for April 17, 2015 for the Henderson County Library fundraiser, Books in Bloom. More information on the guest author, etc…will follow.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
December 9th: Christmas Party/Meeting, 9:30 A.M.
Bonnie Magee, Food Czar
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, nominated by readers voting through Goodreads as the best work of fiction for 2014.
Home of Bonnie Magee, co-hosted by Rosemary Farmer
Reviewer: Melanie Prebis
January 13th, 2015 The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
Home of Sandy Molander
February 10th: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Home of Jean Alexander
Reviewer: Barbara Creach
March 10th: Book not selected
Home of Joanna Linder
April 14th: Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
Home of Kay Robinson
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
May 19th: Book not selected
Home of Beverly Dossett
Summer Break: June, July & August
September 8th: Bookers 12th year
Peaks and valleys, the extreme moments that stand out in our lives, make you realize you can’t build upon fragile precipices, but remember to enjoy the view.