Everyone knows someone who struggles with mental illness. Maybe they don’t even know it. But when it’s a member of your immediate family, it is hard to miss. And it affects each member of that family in a different way. Maybe we inherit those traits. Maybe we feel guilt. Maybe we mourn the fact that we can’t do more. Maybe we ignore. Maybe we act out, in anger, fear, or desperation.
In his exceptional book, Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett explores how depression and corresponding tragedy impact the different members of a family, from each of their perspectives. Many have attempted the multiple voice approach to novel writing, but I don’t know of anyone who has done it better, more fluidly or masterfully than Haslett has done it here.
In each section, I truly felt that I was perceiving the life and experience of that person firsthand. As a daughter/sister, wife/mother, brother/son, as myself.
The book was intelligent without being didactic, and inspired thought and compassion without being dreary or sad. It wasn’t just a “depression/mental illness” book. It was a book about family, love, life. It was even funny, at times. Always rewarding.
I loved this quote from Marcel Proust:
One can feel an attraction towards a particular person, but to release that font of sorrow, that sense of the irreparable, those agonies which prepare the way for love, there must be–and this is perhaps, more than a person, the actual object which our passion seeks so anxiously to embrace–the risk of an impossibility.”
p. 132. Ah, unrequited love. For some of us, the “unrequited-ness” becomes confused in the sensation itself. We mistake wanting what we can’t have for the feeling of love in the first place.
Another theme I identified with and thoroughly enjoyed throughout the book was this idea of loneliness: “The strange loneliness of being together with your family.” (p. 287). I have experienced this in my own family growing up, and in my family now. It’s not sad. It’s sort of comforting and familiar, the sensation. Akin to boredom. And nostalgia. There is a sense of peace in relationships that are such constants that we enjoy the luxury of taking them for granted.
Also enjoyed how one of the characters thought of himself as “ancient” at the ripe old age of 37. This hit close to home. This may not always be the case, but from where I sit, 37 is both old and young. Much of life behind you, but hopefully much, much more to come.
So I reiterate, this wasn’t a sad and depressing book, though it had sad elements and dealt with depression. It addressed real feelings, real thoughts, real life, and felt very poignant. It didn’t resolve anything, but maybe that’s the whole idea. Maybe these issues can’t be truly resolved. Loving and trying and hoping and losing are all inseparably intertwined. The struggle is the journey and the point.
Without knowing it, I had been desperate for more from Haslett since reading is unforgettable short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. Some of those stories have stayed with me for years, and I won’t be forgetting Imagine Me Gone any time soon. It defies categorization and is very unique, in voice and substance. I highly, highly recommend it.