Monday, May 30, 2016
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Published May 2016 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher's through Netgalley
Publisher's Summary: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.
When I started this book, I couldn't at all recall what it was about, why I'd requested it from Netgalley. Generally, I find that to be a good thing, going into a book with no preconceived ideas or expectations. I'm not sure that was a good thing with Imagine Me Gone. Five pages in I was certain I knew what kind of book this was. Fifty pages later, I knew it was a different book but still a book I would enjoy. Then it went somewhere entirely different and I began to have to fight my way through it.
It's not that Imagine Me Gone doesn't have some brilliant moments and some truly unique elements. It has five well developed characters and Haslett does a terrific job of exploring the complexities of mental illness and its impact on families. He blasts the pharmacy industry and the doctors who are all too ready to medicate patients but also makes clear that there is no easy solution to the problem.
But...(there's that word again)
I just could not become attached to any of the characters, despite ample reason to empathize with them. Some of that had to do with the fact that Haslett didn't necessarily mean for them to be sympathetic. The constant shifting of perspective was an issue for me but the bigger problem was the long passages where he gave Michael's mind room to roam in strange ways. I get that it highlighted his issues and was meant to make readers understand what his family had to deal with. But some of it went on for pages and pages and pages and it took me completely out of the story. Then there was the problem of trying to figure out how Haslett wanted me to feel about the book. Should I be devastated by the incredibly sad things that happen? But then, wait, what's with this black humor section? I just couldn't settle with it and without being able to do that, I couldn't connect.
You're going to read reviews that say Imagine Me Gone "brilliant" and "transcendent" and "eloquent." Those reviewers may well be right. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. But read those reviews. It may be that this was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me.