Lovers of literature know that great fiction always reveals truth. It enables us to see ourselves and our experiences, both good and bad, within the world at large without fear of personal exposure. When I read the publisher’s summary of Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown, 2016), I recognized a family like much like my own and knew it was a book I had to read.
Imagine Me Gone explores the devastating toll of mental illness on both the sufferers and the loved ones who care for them. The opening scene is a flashback to a death, hinting at a suicide. The feeling of dread made me put the book down for a couple of days until I felt ready to forge on. I’m glad I did.
Patriarch John suffers from bouts of major depression, something his girlfriend Margaret only becomes aware of when he is hospitalized during their engagement. She decides to stay the course and marry him anyway. Their marriage produces three children: Michael, Celia, and Alec, who each learn to cope in their own way with their father’s mood disorder and the emotional and financial strain it puts on their family. The eldest, Michael, is plagued by severe anxiety as well, which intensifies as he enters adulthood.
Haslett tells the story in alternating points of view by all five members of the family. It isn’t an easy read, but his writing is as real as it gets when describing the family’s anguish. At its core, Imagine Me Gone considers the lasting effects of mental illness and suicide on a family as they attempt to move past it and find meaning in their lives.
Imagine Me Gone was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and long-listed for the National Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal.