The Answer to the Riddle Is Me

David Stuart MacLean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-547-51927-2
MacLean fearlessly explores his journey to the edge of madness and his subsequent return to sanity in an unsettling, sometimes riotous, memoir. Destabilized by the brutal side effects of anti-malaria medication in India, MacLean hurtled into near-total amnesia. “I couldn’t even think of what name would have been on a passport if I had one or what foreign country I was currently in. This is when I panicked.” Committed to a mental hospital, where his allergic drug reaction is diagnosed, MacLean flails unsuccessfully for solid mental touchstones while making vivid, sometimes lovely observations about the swirl of life around him. After a rough return to his Ohio home, he adapts skills “used by any con man” to feign recognition and familiarity with his personal history. He breaks up with his girlfriend, nearly a stranger, and returns to India. The harsh effects of the drug Lariam are described soberly and clinically, but his account of returning to a foreign land proves especially disorienting, though an interlude of romantic misadventure offers some comic relief. He painfully reconstructs his breakdown, which was followed by a return to graduate school and a dreary routine of drinking, punctuated by troubling dreams that left him awake, alone, and bereft. The uneasy peace he attains grows stronger by the end of the book, when it’s oddly cheering to read “everyday crazy is something I can handle.” Agent: Eleanor Jackson, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/2013
Release date: 01/14/2014
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