Think having near-perfect recall would be a huge asset? The first person ever diagnosed with hyperthymestic syndrome begs to differ.
“Imagine if someone had made videos of you from the time you were a child,” writes Price in a memorable description of what it’s like to recall practically every detail from your life, “and then combined them all onto one DVD, and you sat in a room and watched that DVD on a machine set to shuffle randomly through the tracks…I never know what I might remember next.” She wasn’t afflicted by this “gift” during her childhood in New York and New Jersey. But when her father was offered a promotion from talent agent to TV executive and moved the family to California in the fall of 1974, eight-year-old Price’s mind began to fill up with memories of every minute in her past. After February 5, 1980, she states, she had perfect recall. This endlessly distracting ability caused her to become a pack rat with possessions and obsessive-compulsive about recording her experiences (the total number of pages in her journals tops 50,000). In 2000, Price connected with Dr. James L. McGaugh, professor emeritus at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine, who began to study her heretofore unknown but quite real condition. Price has a knack for vividly rendering childhood memories like scenes from an impressionistic film. The chronicle of her adult life, unfortunately, is told in stiff, repetitive prose that leaches out much of her story’s impact. The memoir’s effectiveness as a personal document is further muffled by a large amount of material on memory research presented in an overly general fashion.
Price’s story is intriguing, but ultimately fails to shed light on a little-understood subject.