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Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Duo of Damaged Minds

Recently I read two novels that had something in common - their narrators were unreliable. This was not because they were being untruthful, but because their grasp on reality was fragile due to the fact that their brains were damaged.

In Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Dr. Jennifer White's best friend has been murdered and she finds herself a suspect. But there is a complication. Jennifer is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's dementia and half the time she can't remember that Amanda is dead, never mind if she was involved in her murder. Told completely from the point of view of Jennifer's deteriorating mind, you suffer with her as she slips further away from herself and those she loves. Your view of reality is hers - fractured, unsure and changeable as she has good days and bad days. While the murder and its solution is interesting in itself, it is only one aspect of the novel. It is also a fascinating look into the mind being lost to a horrible disease and a study of relationships - what binds people together and tears them apart.

S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep opens with Christine waking beside a man she doesn't know, only to discover she is a middle age woman- not in her twenties like she remembers. The man, Ben, explains he is her husband and that she is suffering from a strange type of amnesia as a result of an accident. Every night when she sleeps she loses the past 20 odd years of memories. Christine soon discovers that unknown to Ben she is seeing a Dr. Nash who is trying to help her regain her memories and that she keeps a secret journal. As she reads her entries, Christine realizes that Ben may not be telling her the whole truth. Is he trying protect her from painful memories or is something more sinister going on? Knowing only what Christine does, the readers finds themselves on a roller coaster ride trying to figure out what is really going on and who to trust. This page turning thriller is hard to put down.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Liked The Help? This is your next read!

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

As the novel opens we are immediately drawn into the thread of the story. The two Allen brothers are covertly burying their father. Why are they so secretive and what caused his demise?

Equally involving is the story of the McAllen family. Laura is a city bred woman who has been transplanted to a farm on the Mississippi Delta. Her back story with her future husband Henry, his father Pappy and his brother Jamie is compelling and the story only gets better as we meet the other characters in the story. Jamie’s friendship with Ronsel Jackson, a black sharecropper, is based on their shared war experiences. Jamie has turned to alcohol for comfort and Ronsel is faced again with southern bigotry after having equality during his war service. Although they should not be friends in their circumstances, they find common ground.

Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story of deep mindless prejudice and cruelty unfolds with a chilling inevitability. I could not choose which character’s viewpoint was better. All were so fully formed and compelling. And the ending left me speechless…I did not see it coming. The writing is exceptional, the story always forceful.

Highly recommended for all readers. There is so much to discuss here and this would make an excellent choice for book groups.