A young writer reckons with his life after amnesia.
On Oct. 17, 2002, first-time author MacLean came to while standing in a crush of people on a train platform in India. He had no passport and no clue where he was or what his name was. He then panicked and blacked out again. When he regained consciousness, he was still standing on the platform, utterly confused and terrified, when a kindly police officer found and took him under his protection. Had the author not had his driver’s license with him, this memoir may never have been written. The 28-year-old MacLean was in Hyderabad, India, studying on a Fulbright scholarship, a world away from the state of New Mexico that had issued his license. In episodic bursts, the author relates moments he recalls from that day forward. Many of the scenes describing his wild hallucinations and slow return to relative sanity powerfully convey an immediacy, as MacLean and his parents, who rushed from the States to the neuropsychiatric institute where he was taken, learned the cause of his “acute polymorphic psychosis.” When MacLean was found, those who first assisted him assumed his amnesia and severe disorientation were the result of recreational drug abuse, but blood work soon revealed the culprit to be an allergic reaction to a prescribed drug with a grave history of inducing psychosis: mefloquine, the popular antimalarial drug better known as Lariam. Much of the memoir’s power comes from MacLean’s intense descriptions of the altered states he endured as he tried to rediscover his identity. Recalling the return to his parents’ home, he writes: “I felt myself slipping, worried that I’d never recover, that I’d be in this wood-glue-filled piñata for the rest of my life. And then if I did recover, if I got everything back, who knew if it would happen again? How many times would I end up touring the exhibits of my curated self?”
A mesmerizing debut. MacLean spares no detail in tracing his formidable reconstruction.