Imagine Me Gone

Imagine Me Gone

4.4 5
by Adam Haslett

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"Haslett is one of the country's most talented writers, equipped with a sixth sense for characterization."--Wall Street Journal

"Ambitious and stirring . . . With Imagine Me Gone, Haslett has reached another level." --New York




"Haslett is one of the country's most talented writers, equipped with a sixth sense for characterization."--Wall Street Journal

"Ambitious and stirring . . . With Imagine Me Gone, Haslett has reached another level." --New York Times Book Review

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Best Books of 2016 So Far -- Time and Refinery29

From a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, a ferociously 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. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings -- the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec -- struggle along with their mother to care for Michael's increasingly troubled and precarious existence.

Told in alternating points of view by all five members of the family, this searing, gut-wrenching, and yet frequently hilarious novel brings alive with remarkable depth and poignancy the love of a mother for her children, the often inescapable devotion siblings feel toward one another, and the legacy of a father's pain in the life of a family.

With his striking emotional precision and lively, inventive language, Adam Haslett has given us something rare: a novel with the power to change how we see the most important people in our lives.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review

If one gets nothing else from Adam Haslett's stunning novel — and there are freightloads of else to get — a new appreciation for the decisive place of Donna Summer in the history of late-twentieth- century music might be enough. Yes, Donna Summer: never again may she be underestimated.

The words above were in fact written while listening to "Our Love," a 1979 track that Haslett's indelible character Michael understands as the single origin of the great burgeoning of techno, instructing a youngster decades later, "It's the genealogy of what you already love." Michael is a fountain of anxiety, "hyper- articulate," a supercollider of thoughts, a conduit for the impossible flood of pain that runs through a society that has not begun to acknowledge the ever-bleeding gash in its middle that is the legacy of slavery. Michael devotes himself to collecting music on an epic scale, the more outré the better, and reading into what might be called the literature of legacy, Proust and Althusser and Audre Lorde and Marx ("As Marx tells us, the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare upon the brains of the living").

Imagine Me Gone fulfills its considerable ambitions. It touches greatness, and its seamless interleaving of the deeply personal with the widely collective is one reason. The character of Michael is another. Haslett suggests grief is passed to succeeding generations of a society by the same mechanism it is to individuals. In Michael both converge. He's a true head case — hurting, a perennial child in need of solace, and a preacher who seems in lonely possession of the one true religion: the truth he was bequeathed by his unhappy parents and the one that came through his headphones. In fifth grade, 1978,

I couldn't be certain what it meant to "Give Up the Funk," or "Tear the Roof off the Sucker," or why Parliament would title an album Mothership Connection. But I had my first secret joy at knowing that beyond the veil of the apparent, meaning ached in the grain of music. A joy accompanied by my first intuition that black people might know a thing or two about the need for that meaning — history being the culprit.
From his ears it enters his blood. He begins to bear a mortal guilt, bolstered by his music fandom and humanist education, over his discovery that his race caused another to so desperately need that meaning, one that could only be expressed openly in the music that mutated down the years from funk to disco to house. He believes music is "the medium for the transgenerational haunting of the trauma of slavery." Of course, such a weight finally breaks him. The congenital burden of his father's manic-depression and a calamitous chemical dependence do not help.

Pulitzer-nominated Haslett (You Are Not a Stranger Here) has often used fiction to anatomize the ravages of mental illness, of existential despair. Here he accuses Big Pharma of cynically "curing" it primarily for the benefit of its own pocket. But he also acknowledges that no one has a much better idea of how to fix the unbearable sadness that can descend; he delivers a fine-grained map of the territory of chronic depression in the sections devoted to Michael's father, John, who has only momentary reprieves before being overtaken by the "monster" again. (In one of the book's multitude of striking aperçus John's wife, Margaret, remarks of the British ward to which John has been committed, "The light in that room was a kind of malpractice.")

Their other children are Alec and Celia, and each finds ways to hold in abeyance the family's heirloom anxiety — the latter by running obsessive wind sprints and becoming a psychotherapist to heal herself by proxy, the former by taking it upon himself to oversee his brother's withdrawal from drugs. But, notwithstanding Haslett's intention to use them to display the prismatic effects of their own flashes of originality (Celia drops a truism worthy of a T-shirt at least, "Love is an affliction or nothing at all"), they fade behind the bright light that is Michael. For he is both the intellectual center of this cerebral novel and its tragicomic relief, the author of several brilliant parodic set pieces. It is he who is most heartbreakingly real, even as he stands in for the missing conscience of a nation.

Haslett's peculiar talent is to fuse the high to the low, the sardonic to the profound, cultural critique to human feeling, to achieve a seamless, polished whole. Imagine Me Gone accomplishes a complex feat, bringing close that most distant personality, the socially detached depressive, while giving the specificity of his guilt tangible weight. Adam Haslett has a point to make, and emotions for us to feel. If you are a son or a daughter, a member of a society with a dark past, remember one thing: "What we ignore only persists." What we read, so long as it is beautifully written and filled with astonishing insight, persists too.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson is the author of three works of nonfiction: The Perfect Vehicle, Dark Horses and Black Beauties, andThe Place You Love Is Gone, all from Norton. She is writing a book on B. F. Skinner and the ethics of dog training.

Reviewer: Melissa Holbrook Pierson

The New York Times Book Review - Bret Anthony Johnston
…too many fiction writers lean on conveniently traumatic back stories and oversimplified psychological causality to explain away, rather than complicate, a character's behavior. Thankfully, Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett's ambitious and stirring second novel, owns up to the complexity—and consequence—of what can and cannot be inherited. Haslett has written about mental illness before, most movingly in the story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here…The subject also factored into his first novel, Union Atlantic, but with Imagine Me Gone…Haslett has reached another level, affording readers a full and luminous depiction of the mind under siege…By putting the readers in the same position as 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…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.
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/25/2016
Here was the world unfettered by dread... The present had somehow ceased to be an emergency,” writes Michael, the eldest son of a tightly knit British-American family, when he receives his first dose of Klonopin. Pulitzer-finalist Haslett’s latest is a sprawling, ambitious epic about a family bound not only by familial love, but by that sense of impending emergency that hovers around Michael, who has inherited his father John’s abiding depression and anxiety. The book begins with the family as a nuclear unit, the narrative switching among the parents and the kids (Michael, Celia, and Alec), as a cure for Michael’s condition seems close. When tragedy undermines the unit, though, the search for an antidote takes on a new urgency, as Michael cycles through obsessions with music and girlfriends, and Celia and Alec attempt to keep their own relationships afloat. This is a book that tenderly and luminously deals with mental illness and with the life of the mind. Occasionally, the narrative style (it switches among monologues, letters, and messages from the doctor’s office) feels stiff. But in Michael, Haslett has created a most memorable character. This is a hypnotic and haunting novel. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (May)
From the Publisher
"Extraordinary. . . . Frighteningly tender. . . . Displays an order as natural as a tree branch in winter-lithe and achingly austere."—The Boston Globe

"The greatest of this novel's many strengths is Haslett's uncanny gift for inhabiting the consciousness of five enormously complex characters....Imagine Me Gone is not a traditionally plotted novel but a psychological character study, written with the kind of patient intricacy one associates with 19th-century realists like the Russian masters or George Eliot - or, in contemporary American literature, Jonathan Franzen (Haslett's former teacher).....Adam Haslett is a writer of prodigious gifts, the greatest among them a deep compassion for his most flawed characters, and the courage to go with them into the abyss and bring their stories back to us with uncommon grace and boundless empathy."—Ed Tarkington, Nashville Scene

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-02-15
This touching chronicle of love and pain traces half a century in a family of five from the parents' engagement in 1963 through a father's and son's psychological torments and a final crisis. Something has happened to Michael in the opening pages, which are told in the voice of his brother, Alec. The next chapter is narrated by Margaret, the mother of Michael, 12, Celia, 10, and Alec, 7, and the wife of John, as they prepare for a vacation in Maine. Soon, a flashback reveals that shortly before John and Margaret were to wed, she learned of his periodic mental illness, a "sort of hibernation" in which "the mind closes down." She marries him anyway and comes to worry about the recurrence of his hibernations—which exacerbate their constant money problems—only to witness Michael bearing the awful legacy. Each chapter is told by one of the family's five voices, shifting the point of view on shared troubles, showing how they grow away from one another without losing touch, how they cope with the loss of John and the challenge of Michael. Haslett (Union Atlantic, 2009, etc.) shapes these characters with such sympathy, detail, and skill that reading about them is akin to living among them. The portrait of Michael stands out: a clever, winning youth who becomes a kind of scholar of contemporary music with an empathy for black history and a wretched dependence on Klonopin and many other drugs to keep his anxiety at bay, to glimpse a "world unfettered by dread." As vivid and moving as the novel is, it's not because Haslett strives to surprise but because he's so mindful and expressive of how much precious life there is in both normalcy and anguish.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Adam Haslett is the author of the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, and the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. 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.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 24, 1970
Place of Birth:
Porchester, New York
B.A., Swarthmore College, 1993; M.F.A., Iowa Writers¿ Workshop, 1999; J.D., Yale Law School, graduating May 2003

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Imagine Me Gone 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KarenEvans 3 months ago
A perfect rainy day read that draws you in with talk of summer vacation in Maine and subsequently causes you to mourn as you watch the characters over the decades to follow. This book is about mental illness and the impact it has on a family. It’s about childhood with a mentally ill parent and the adulthood that follows. If you have any experience with either, it may be a challenging and emotional read. Imagine Me Gone tells of Margaret, an American, who falls in love with a British man and discovers that he struggles with depression when he is suddenly hospitalized. She marries him anyway and this novel follows their life together focusing mainly on their three children. The first chapter is a view of the end before whipping back to tell things from the beginning. The writing is beautiful, really well done! "I had never understood before the invisibility of a human. How what we take to be a person is in fact a spirit we can never see." Imagine Me Gone was released Tuesday and is the May selection of the First Edition Book Club so I have a signed copy! I can’t wait to see what other books will come my way this year! What have been your favorite reads in 2016? *** Update, I met Adam at the 2016 Chicago Lit Fest! ***
Anonymous 5 months ago
Intelligently and beautifully crafted novel. The three siblings are complex and each are self-centered. It is difficult to relate to any of them, nor are they likable . The Mother has her own issues , but at least she realizes that the earth does not revolve around her---something she has failed to instill in her children. A sad, pitiable family .
Anonymous 6 months ago
You just have to read it to know.....
Piney10 7 months ago
I would rate this around 3.8, not quite up to a four star. This is a very depressing story. It was excruciatingly painful to read. It concerns mental illness among a few family members and the impact of this disease on the whole family. There is no short term solution here and the novel in my view gave a fairly realistic portrayal of those with the disease as well as how it impacted all of the other characters throughout their lives.. The characters were all very well defined. The only reason I hesitated in giving a higher rating is that I thought the ending was very contrived. I do not want to say more as it might be a spoiler.
Anonymous 11 months ago