Saturday, October 24, 2015

David MacLean's The Answer to the Riddle is Me

I read David MacLean's The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia. Very good book. MacLean was in India and had a terrible reaction to the malaria drug Lariam. He suddenly became conscious in a train station, not knowing who he was or what he was doing. He spends the book describing how he tries to understand who he had been before.

The book made me think about how brain chemicals essentially construct reality. His descriptions of hallucinations conjured up images of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, who like other Beat writers (and many other artists of different eras) thought hallucinogens took them to a higher level. MacLean felt he was close to solving a riddle God had given him, and God looked like Jim Henson. Who's to say he's wrong?

But it also means that chemicals dictate how we feel about people. He couldn't remember his girlfriend, and so suddenly they had no past. It didn't matter if they had spent months together: his brain chemicals wiped out all the memories, so for him that time never occurred. It's scary to think about, and he was badly scared.

He spends much of the book using other chemicals, mostly nicotine and alcohol, to counteract the chemicals that are messing him up. As you might guess, they really only make things worse. In the end, he needed to forge a new romantic relationship to center himself. Past ones simply could not work because knowing that memories were missing created a chasm.


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