Not being the greatest fan of short stories I had loved Haslett’s “You are not a Stranger Here” so much when I had read it a couple of years ago, that I was really looking forward to discover more of his writing. Not too long ago I had tried to read his debut novel “Union Atlantic” and it had not engage me at all. In spite of my failure to fall in love with Haslett’s first novel, I was happy to discover that his second one, “Imagine Me Gone”, had just been published, and managed to get a copy of it through NetGalley.
“Imagine Me Gone” is a brutally honest account of the effects of a mental illness on everybody around it. I don’t always like it when the narration is split into many different voices, but Haslett was really brilliant in giving voice to all the members of the family, whose lives are involuntarily affected first by the mental illness of John, the father, and then of Michael, the son. The illness, both in its presence and absence, casts an indelible shadow on all the characters, and it’s so tangible and real, that you can perceive it almost as one of the characters of the book, at the very center of it.
“Imagine Me Gone” is not only about mental illness and agony it causes to the person who is suffering from it, and to all those who are close enough to its epicenter, but also about our desire to explain it, to solve it, to believe that there always must be a trauma somewhere in the past which must have triggered the illness, and that if we locate it, we will no doubt be able to cure it. It is about how wrong we may sometimes be, and how far from being able to empathize with and understand the one who is ill.
Reading Haslett’s book brought my own anxieties up to the surface and reminded me of how wide the spectrum of what we call a mental illness is, and I caught myself biting my cuticles while I was reading it during my lunch breaks at work.
It is a devastating and poetic journey, and I can’t but recommend you to take it. I am really happy that my failure to engage with “Union Atlantic” had not discouraged me from giving this book a chance. Haslett has now firmly installed himself among my favorite contemporary writers.