WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Vanishing act

Imagine Me GoneImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For me, three stars is a good review, so I’ll say at the top that I liked this book and admired what Haslett has accomplished with it. As a novelist myself, though, I wish the publishing business would allow more of us to write books like this, heavy on character and light on plot, because that’s how you get to the realistic core of what it is to be human. This family — Michael, Alec, Celia, Margaret, and John — is the tragic host of another character (clinical depression) that governs everything in their lives. A formulaic plot doesn’t cut it with a story like that; you need to get deep inside these people, and Haslett succeeds beautifully.

The technique of multiple first-person voices is a great approach here. We hear from each family member in alternating segments, though only Michael’s voice truly stands out with energy and real individuality. Ironic that he’s the depressed one. The other family members sound a lot alike in their low-grade suffering, typical New Yorker short story voices, really. Not much of a there there in the female characters, which is a shame. We appreciate their takes on Michael more than anything, but they seem mired in place and don’t seem to evolve like Michael and Alec do.

But the treatment of how clinical depression affects patients and their families is painfully accurate and moving. We understand what is happening and, like the family itself, can’t do anything to stop it. A family member with depression is always boxed in or set aside, with everyone hoping that the drugs start working one day.

Haslett’s writing is literary and well-crafted, though now and then it feels like we might have seen some of these moments before. His main achievement in this book is to have taken on a tragic situation honestly and without sweetening it for easier consumption. The thing that is left for people close to loved ones with depression is often an enduring sense of guilt.

View all my reviews

5 comments on “Vanishing act

  1. Ilona Elliott
    August 18, 2017

    Thanks. I’ve heard of it and now think I will read it. Years ago I read “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingslover with that format–first person from multiple characters, each a chapter. It was a a really good read.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 18, 2017

      I’ve tried that myself a few times, using several first-person narrators. It’s not that easy to pull off because you need to make them all sound distinctive, so bravo to writers who can manage it.

  2. pinklightsabre
    August 20, 2017

    Heavy on character, light on plot: amen. You and me, we like moody music. There’s that.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 20, 2017

      Hey, you’re back! Too much plot and I start to feel buried. Heh heh.

      • pinklightsabre
        August 20, 2017

        I’m like so back.

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This entry was posted on August 18, 2017 by in Writing and tagged , .
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