Alice LaPlante at Pacific Grove Library

What makes a story true?  What does it mean to tell a story “based on real life”?  Is it possible to separate the part that is “true” or “real” from the part that was born in the author’s imagination?

Next Thursday, June 13, the Pacific Grove Public Library presents author Alice LaPlante, whose highly-acclaimed first novel Turn of Mind is told from the perspective of a Chicago woman sinking by rapid degrees into the fog and confusion of Alzeimer’s disease.  Narrative clarity is an important goal for any writer.  How can one convey the fraying, fragmented nature of a point of view in a way that gives the reader access to a mind that is falling apart?

To complicate matters, the woman, a retired surgeon named Jennifer White, is the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend, a fact she often forgets.  She also regularly forgets that her husband is dead.

I’ve just started reading Turn of Mind and am looking forward to hearing LaPlante discuss how she drew upon real life experience and transformed it into fiction.  In the passage below, Jennifer is with her daughter, Fiona, who is bringing her back to the house she has just wandered out of.  (Fiona’s voice is in italics.)

How I love this house, she says. I’ll be so sad to see it go.

Why should it go? I ask. Your father and I don’t intend to move. The wind whistles past and both of us are white with cold, but we stand there on the sidewalk in front of the house, not moving. The frigid temperature suits me. It suits the conversation, which strikes me as important.

Fiona’s face is pinched and there are large goosebumps on her arms, but she still doesn’t move. The house before us is solid, it is a fact. The warm red stones, the large protruding rectangular windows, the three stories capped with a flat roof emblematic of other Chicago houses of the era.  I find myself yearning for it as desperately as when James and I first saw it, as if it were out of our reach. Yet it is truly ours. Mine. I bullied James into  buying it, even though it was beyond our means at the time. It is my home.

Home, she says as if she could read my mind, then shakes her head as if to clear it. She takes me by the elbow, propels me up the steps, into the house, helps me off with my coat, my shoes.

Alice LaPlante at the Pacific Grove Public Library, Thursday, June 13, 7:30 p.m.  Suggested donation to benefit the Library is $10; refreshments are included.  Books are available at the event.