Written by Alison Gaylin — How’s your memory? Do you religiously compile a list of groceries before your monthly shop only to leave it on the kitchen table? Do you recall, word for word, the lyrics to a song that made number 15 in the charts in 1975, but struggle to remember the name of your neighbour’s daughter? Think yourself lucky because in this book the central character can remember everything that ever happened to her, word for word and in HD.
Meet Brenna Spector, New York private detective and sufferer of the uber-rare disorder hyperthymestic syndrome, which means she remembers every minute of every day of her life, with all five senses, whether she wants to or not. It is a disorder which can be triggered by a particularly traumatic experience and in Brenna’s case this is the loss of her sister, Clea. Brenna was just 11 when her 16-year-old sibling climbed into the passenger seat of a blue car and was driven away, never to be seen again. That was almost 30 years ago, and in one way or another, Brenna has been looking for her ever since.
As a teen herself, Brenna gained notoriety as ‘the girl with the tape recorder mind’ when her condition was chronicled in a best-selling book by the psychologist who treated her. Now she uses her unusual skills as a private eye, specialising in – surprise, surprise – finding missing persons. She is ably assisted by Trent LaSalle, a self-absorbed computer geek who, when he isn’t playing with new technology, is never happier than to be out there playing the field in the clubs and dives of the Big Apple.
Along with our heroine, Trent is a truly magnificent fictional creation and I loved his cheesy chat up lines and ‘dude’ speak. The final part of this inspired trinity is Dectective Nick Morasco, a preppy, spectacle wearing enigma with a penchant for tweed jackets and an aura of sadness which intrigues and attracts Brenna, who is divorced and the mother of a teenage daughter.
All three play their part in the investigation after mild-mannered suburban housewife Carol Wentz disappears from home without a word of explanation. Brenna is hired by Carol’s baffled husband Nelson, and as she begins to piece things together it soon becomes clear that she was not as one-dimensional as people assumed. Brenna and Nick meet during the investigation, and the meeting proves a catalyst for the woman who never forgets anything. They have met before, 11 years ago, when a little girl disappeared from Tarry Ridge, where the Wentzes live. Little Iris Neff was just five when she vanished without trace. Now Carol has gone too and her wallet has been found in the empty house which was once Iris’s home.
A simple word, image or phrase can trigger off in Brenna an all-encompassing memory which leaves her no room for the here and now. Which means her relationship with her daughter Maya suffers. It also means that Brenna can only converse with her ex-husband Jim via Instant Messaging because seeing him prompts too many overwhelming emotions. The theme of memory is a compelling one, and Gaylin even employs a trigger which many of us will be familiar with. An old song on the radio is a sure way of taking you back to another time, isn’t it? Even the book’s title is taken from a Talking Heads song about a girl who disappears.
This is a unique book which is so enjoyable that I actually read it twice – a rarity for me. In recent years, I’ve only done that on two previous occasions, for Cathi Unsworth’s Weirdo and The Killing Pool by Kevin Sampson, so it is in very good company. It’s two years since this book came out in the US, so readers in the UK are well overdue the treat. I hope it won’t be as long until the follow-up, Into the Dark, arrives on these shores too.
And She Was is released in the UK as a paperback on 4 December.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars