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“Imagine Me Gone” is a novel that invites discussion about families, mental illness, suicide, caregivers, and medication. Like bookends, it has a strong beginning, and a stronger ending, that sandwiches story line relationships of a family that has survived the suicide of their husband and father, John. Adam Haslett’s novel is told in first person by the wife Margaret, and the three children from oldest to youngest: Michael, Celia and Alec. Michael has inherited elements of his father’s depression. The others, in varying degrees are his caregivers. Celia avoids extended relationships with men, because of fear of separation. Alec does likewise with men.

“The inanimate world has such unimpeachable wisdom: no thought.”

This novel tears at the fabric of family when confronted with mental illness. However, except for John’s narrative, which superficially captures his declining mental capacity, this is not an examination of illness from the patient’s perspective. There are excessive medications and other fixations, but the story-line is principally about relationships. In some ways Michael is written for laughs. Relationship trauma, not personal trauma, is at the heart of this book. Caregivers are explored. It is their disruptive hope, exhaustion and resignation that like auto-immune T cells destroy. The caregiver becomes a passive-aggressive victimizer, out of need to save his or herself. Abnormal is an altered state of normal, not a negation of it.

“I had to give up my own need to cure if I was going to stand any chance of shepherding her toward acceptance of who she already was.”

This book would be an excellent choice for book clubs, particularly as mental illness is an increasing burden on many families.

This novel was longlisted for the National Book Award. The author’s short story collection “You Are Not a Stranger Here” was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Finalist. His novel, “Union Atlantic” was a winner of the Lambda Literary Award.

 

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