Before selecting the June Book of the Month, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Adam Haslett. Prior to that conversation, I struggled with choosing Imagine Me Gone despite loving the book and recommending it to all of the readers in my life. I feared the belief that the subject of the book was mental illness. A perception, which is unfortunately being reinforced by almost every review of the recently published novel. My years of experience have shown me that just the idea of discomfiting subject matter can make some readers shy away from a powerful and profound book. I wanted to make a paper bag book cover (like we used to make in grade school) and just hand the novel to all of my book club members so that they could read it pure and experience the emotional journey along with the characters.
Adam and I discussed how mental illness has become the headline. Adam said, “The headline is not descriptively wrong, but it feels like a description from outside the book, which is a pity because I want my readers to dive in the pool and live inside that pool.” According to Haslett and strongly believed by this deep reader, this is a love story about family.
Years ago I copied these lines from A Country Life by Rachel Cusk.
“It is no good saying that if people aren’t perfect you’re not going to love them. That’s what families are all about. They absorb things. They grow round them. They may end up looking all twisted and ugly, but at least they’re strong.”
This accomplished writer needs to be acknowledged for using fiction and metaphor to present the most honest and raw representation on the page of a mind under siege. Within a novel he has given a far more vivid portrayal of depression than William Styron did by skimming the surface in his memoir Darkness Visible. Imagine Me Gone is more potent as it encompasses not just the individual but through multiple narratives the all-encompassing effect on a family. Adam Haslett has written a beautiful, harrowing, and witty book that explores the complexity of how we live with our family, how we can resent our family, how we carry the legacy and burden of family and through it all how we love and try to protect them. Ultimately I was compelled to select Imagine Me Gone as our June Book of the Month. Haslett has created a family that has mental illness at their center but as my grandmother used to say every family has something even if you don’t know about it.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
From a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, a fiercely intimate story of a family facing the ultimate question: how far will we go to save the people we love the most? When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic, who makes sense of the world through parody, and the story of how, over the span of decades, his younger siblings—the savvy and responsible Celia, and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec—struggle with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.
With his striking emotional precision and lively, inventive language, Adam Haslett has given us something rare: a novel with the power to change how you see the most important people in your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adam Haslett is the author of three works of fiction: the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist; the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize; and his most recent, the novel Imagine Me Gone. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and his journalism and fiction have appeared in The Financial Times, Esquire, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Short Stories. He has been awarded the Berlin Prize by the American Academy in Berlin, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the PEN/Malamud and PEN/Winship Awards. In 2016, he received the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. A graduate of Swarthmore College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Yale Law School, he has been a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.