After spending my working hours thinking about elder abuse, it’s really not my intent to devote my non-working hours to reading books about that subject. So the last two novels I’ve read (see “Musings on ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’” in the November 2011 issue of Bifocal) surprised me. I knew they were about older characters, but none of the reviews I read indicated elder abuse was involved. That, sadly, does not surprise me. Alice LaPlante’s first novel is an engrossing and disturbing tale of Dr. Jennifer White, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon who specialized in hands until she “retired” at age 64 following a dementia diagnosis. She is suspected of murdering and then amputating four fingers from her best friend. Dr. White narrates most of the book, placing you in her head and causing you to experience her deepening confusion, as well as her periods of lucidity (or are they?). You feel her pain when she is constantly reminded about her best friend’s death and re-mourns it each time, while also having a disturbing feeling about it that she can’t quite bring to the surface of her memory (or can she?). You share her anger and frustration when she is sedated and restrained following episodes of agitation and violence. You fear for her when the police detective returns to ask more questions, when she can’t remember her adult children, when those children disagree about how to care for her and who should act for her, when she escapes from the assisted living facility—especially when she seems most incapable of fearing for herself. You shudder at her vulnerability and at the abuses that occur. Lest I dissuade you from reading this beautifully written and fascinating book, there are also moments of heartbreaking hilarity that will be familiar to anyone who has ever loved a person with dementia, delusions, or delirium.
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