Ginko Biloba? Forget it!

Amnesia: The world of entertainment holds a big interest in memory loss. Perhaps because it can create all sorts of memorable projects.

August 24, 2001|By Kevin Canfield | Kevin Canfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What's hot? Well, R&B vocalist Alicia Keys - she's this year's "hot chanteuse," according to Rolling Stone. And the "hot book du jour," says Daily Variety, is the new Walter Kirn novel Up in the Air. And, improbable as it might seem, tourists and travelers have made Iceland a "hot destination," reports USA Today.

Useful information? Maybe, but mundane all the same. How about something a little less obvious?

What, for example, is the hot neurological disorder? Clearly, it's amnesia.

To wit:

The English rock band Radiohead's recently released fifth album is titled Amnesiac.

Memento, one of the year's most talked-about movies, follows an amnesia-stricken character as he hunts for his wife's murderer.

A film now playing at the New England Aquarium in Boston uses amnesia as a plot device to acquaint viewers with city history.

Amnesia, a just-published novel about a New York architect who is more than a little forgetful, is the latest from best-selling author Andrew Neiderman.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Jonathan Lethem thought enough of amnesia as a fictional plot device and a fixture in nonfiction to edit The Vintage Book of Amnesia, an anthology of writing that in various ways deals with amnesia, which came out late last year.

And, of course, amnesia is, has been and likely always will be a staple of soap-opera story lines.

From Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo to novelists like Philip K. Dick and Lethem to musicians like Brian Eno and Talking Heads, amnesia is deeply ingrained in American culture. And it seems to have peaked this year.

"What it does," Lethem said, "is it sort of isolates the basic question people are asking all the time - even if they're not aware they're asking it - which is, `Who am I?' and `Where do I come from?'

"It isn't that we meet a lot of amnesiac people out in the world," Lethem adds. "It's really a self-perpetuating image of life that artists and writers and filmmakers have propagated because it's so useful."

Neiderman, author of The Devil's Advocate (later an Al Pacino movie) and the ghostwriter of more than 30 novels under the name V.C. Andrews, said amnesia crops up so often in fiction and movies because it makes for a compelling story.

"Anybody who suffers from amnesia is in a very vulnerable state," he said. "They have to accept on faith what they're being told about themselves and their past and their history.

"That sort of situation will lend itself to so many different plot lines and character problems that it's an interesting condition for a writer to exploit."

And if amnesia lends itself to the telling of a good story, it stands to reason that it's a good way of discrediting one, too. Just ask Pete Rose. How did Rose respond this month when a former friend claimed he had funded a drug deal, bet on baseball games while manager of the Cincinnati Reds and corked his bat?

He suggested his accuser was suffering from amnesia, of course.

Kevin Canfield is a reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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