Imagine Me Gone Hardcover – May 3, 2016
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Sweet Sorrow" by David Nicholls
"With fully fleshed-out characters, terrific dialogue, bountiful humor, and genuinely affecting scenes, this is really the full package of a rewarding, romantic read."—Booklist Learn more
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"Haslett is one of the country's most talented writers, equipped with a sixth sense for characterization and a limber, unpretentious style. Perhaps his rarest gift is the apprehension of the invisible connections that tie people together...The chapters seamlessly negotiate the passage of time...[Oldest son] Michael comes to dominate the narrative, and Haslett perfectly captures the qualities that make him both seductive and infuriating. He is a motormouth with a fitful imagination and a wicked sense of humor; his nervous energy and 'ceaseless brain' are the battery power on which the whole family runs...Haslett is alert to the reality of others, and the insinuating power of this novel comes from its framing of mental illness as a family affair. Michael's siblings are both wholly convincing characters, shaped by the abiding question of how much, or how little, they are meant to act as their brother's keepers...Most affecting of all is Margaret, who is treated with impatience by her children but possesses a capacious understanding...'What do you fear when you fear everything?' Michael wonders. 'Time passing and not passing. Death and life....This being the condition itself: the relentless need to escape a moment that never ends.' That condition, Haslett's superb novel shows, is an irreducible part of the fabric of Michael's family, as true and defining as the love that binds them."
―Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"Ambitious and stirring . . . With Imagine Me Gone, Haslett has reached another level, affording readers a full and luminous depiction of a mind under siege . . . By putting the readers in the same position as [oldest son] Michael's family members, Haslett has pulled off something of a brilliant trick: We feel precisely what they feel-the frustration, the protectiveness, the hope and fear and, yes, the obligation. If Michael is on the page, if his thoughts or actions are laid bare, there's a grueling sense of dread. If he's out of sight, if his thinking and whereabouts are unknown, the dread becomes all but unbearable . . . This is a book refreshingly replete with surprise. It sneaks up on you with dark and winning humor, poignant tenderness, and sentences so astute that they lift the spirit even when they're awfully, awfully sad . . . But make no mistake, the novel's most rewarding surprise is its heart. Again and again, the characters subtly assert that despite the expense of empathy and the predictable disappointment of love, our tendency to care for one another is warranted . . . Even when it's difficult or terrifying or impossible, especially when it's impossible, the impulse to calm those we hold dear is an absolute privilege."
―Bret Anthony Johnston, New York Times Book Review
"Imagine Me Gone brilliantly captures the excruciating burden of love and the role it plays in both our survival and our destruction. Haslett suspends a sense of dread over you like an anvil from page one, cutting the rope that holds it in the brutal last act. You'd be a fool to look away."
―Julia Black, Esquire
"A richly drawn, Franzenesque canvas . . . Haslett's prose shimmers as he peers unflinchingly at the risks and rewards of fighting for love."―O, The Oprah Magazine
"A devastating family drama . . . Haslett's considerable skills as a writer turn domestic conflicts into something more profound . . . In one beautifully rendered scene after another, Haslett shows the family dealing with John's illness and Michael's descent while also managing their own conflicts . . . Imagine Me Gone is a handsome work . . . the sort of writing that is guaranteed to turn heads."―Michael Magras, Miami Herald
"Searing . . . Devastating and gorgeously written . . . Pure genius . . . Haslett hits the nail on the head when it comes to describing just how anguishing and time-consuming psychiatric disorders can be, not only for the afflicted but also for the flailing loved ones trying their damnedest-and failing-to find a suitable fix . . . Haslett writes with his eyes wide open about the pitfalls of piled-on medication, the panicked late-night phone calls, the cycles of fear, frustration, and guarded hope. And herein lies the kicker: Because these chapters are told from the alternating perspective of each of the five family members, we believe every word in them and bear witness to just how complex and multi-angled the issue of mental illness can be . . . By signing on with Haslett and his characters we are given the chance to look beyond our minutiae and daily distractions in order to notice the passage of time as experienced by others. We are reminded of what it is like to be truly, if fleetingly, alive."―Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
"Powerful . . . Imagine Me Gone is a study of destructive family dynamics akin to Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children or Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast. Family here is a trap as filled with love and concern as it is with exasperation and dread. Moving with penetrating wit between the points of view of a father, mother, daughter, and two sons, the novel traces how the vein of mental illness running through this family affects every member . . . Haslett, as he turns the narrative over to first one and then the other, is uncanny in nailing how their differences in personality and temperament guide their respective actions . . . His sharp take on how minor family foibles become conflated with major family dysfunction introduces some unexpected comedy into the proceedings . . . Haslett expertly evokes family behavioral patterns that simply repeat themselves, taxing everyone's patience, before precipitating into panic-inducing crises . . . With its fugue of voices, each contributing a vital slant to the action, Imagine Me Gone offers rigorous formal pleasures. Yet while flirting with narrative artifice, Haslett stays keenly aware that in this family there is no explanation 'sufficient to account for the events . . . Lives weren't works of art.' In acknowledging that, Imagine Me Gone respects the mystery of how things happen the way they happen, while brilliantly conjuring the tide-like pull with which dreaded possibilities become harsh inevitability."―Michael Upchurch, Boston Globe
"Drawing vivid scenes and compelling characters from a tragic realism, Haslett intimately connects the reader to his characters' inner lives . . . A rare, complex story [with] exceptional storytelling and poignant insights [and] uplifting moments of humor, kindness, and love."
―Don Oldenburg, USA Today
"An extraordinary blend of precision, beauty, and tenderness . . . Haslett's prose rises to the challenge, lushly capturing the dense fog of depression that blankets John [the father] and occasionally lifts just enough to reveal the 'beast' moving in on him. But Haslett really shows his chops channeling [oldest son] Michael's amped-up voice . . . I got caught up in the beauty of Haslett's sentences and the lives of these oh-so-human people bound by shared duress and cycles of hope. Haslett's signature achievement in Imagine Me Gone is to temper the harrowing with the humorous while keeping a steady bead on the pathos. You want sympathetic characters? You want a narrative that showcases love as a many-splendored thing capacious enough to encompass stalwart, long-suffering spouses, loyal siblings, suffocatingly obsessive crushes, and casual, noncommittal relationships (both gay and straight) that morph as if by magic into soul-sustenance? You want writing that thrums with anguish and compassion? It's all here."―Heller McAlpin, NPR
"Smart and polyphonic...Haslett is that rare writer whose art can console without ceasing to be art."
―Boris Kachka, New York
About the Author
His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and he has received the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, the PEN/Malamud Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations. He lives in New York City.
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Margaret meets John in the 1960s and, in spite of his recently being hospitalized for depression, decides to go through with her plans to marry him. They go on to have three children, and it becomes clear early on that Michael, their oldest, is following in his father’s footsteps.
Told in alternating points of view by the five family members, Imagine Me Gone provides substantial insight into the painful legacy mental illness can cast onto a family: each character feels real and worthy of our empathy. Most memorable are Michael’s chapters, which are laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes even written in the form of a parody — a poignant reminder that humor is often utilized as a reliable outlet for relentless inner anguish.
Haslett may be one of the most talented and capable writers to tackle the heavy topic of mental illness since David Foster Wallace. In fact, I found myself thinking frequently of a quote from Infinite Jest: “Sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.”
For this one family, everything comes to revolve around John and Michael, illustrating one of the novel’s main theses: for better or worse, we’re destined to bear the pain of those around us. Is there a way to cope with that reality while still managing to maintain a fulfilling life?
Powerful, moving, hilarious and devastating, Imagine Me Gone is a haunting, sophisticated, gorgeous work of fiction.
Top international reviews
There is John, the father, who keeps his ‘episodes’ a secret from his wife, Margaret, early on in their relationship, the latter who is unable to help her oldest son, Michael, when he too, succumbs to pretty much the same issues as his father. Middle child Celia is fiercely independent and appears to be emotionally the strongest of the family, and helps Michael by listening to him and applying her therapist training on him in a strangely perfunctory manner. Alex, the youngest, has difficulty maintaining firm relationships most likely from being the youngest in a family as outwardly ordinary but troubled within, but finds himself playing the part of the other emotional crutch for Michael, whom he had always wanted attention from as a child.
The voices are all distinctly different in diction and tone, which should flesh them out and create reader empathy. However, despite such artistic prowess, I felt disconnected and did not quite empathise with any of the characters. Perhaps they were none of them particularly likeable, though that is not a prerequisite for reader empathy. I can only surmise that it was largely because the characters themselves all seem rather self-absorbed and detached from one another in their isolation, and the reader simply took their cue from them. There is good reason for their inability to connect though, and it is because they are each unable to confront a primal scene without acknowledging their guilt for not recognising the danger signs that pointed to its inevitability, not acting on what they recognised, and/or the failure to help one another adequately in its aftermath.
So it is with some annoyance from the reader, to discover when tragedy is about to be repeated, that one of the characters who is at the scene, reflects on his inaction in a regretful manner, both indicating that it was inevitable and at the same time, would have been preventable, despite the prior experience of the earlier incident. That drove the story to an anti-climax and failed to evoke the (presumably) intended pathos of the event.
For me this has been a stop start book. In part one, a very lengthy background chapter is given on Micheal, and I wish this had been shorter because it felt like I was wading through a kind of mental treacle. Perhaps this is what the author intended - to have readers gain some real insight into what it’s like for an individual suffering from depression, to put ourselves in their shoes.
There is another chapter in part two on Michael describing a family therapy group session and this was one of the funniest chapters in the whole book. Given the subject matter this could have turned into a very bleak book but fortunately it didn’t, and I think you need to be in the right frame of mind to read it - avoid if feeling low or depressed! Well written and would recommend.
Ultimately a story of family trauma and it's pull on individual lives. This is definitely on my 'read again' list.