When Margaret's fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone follows the fallout of this decision for Michael, their eldest son, as well as the family that must care for him.
In Imagine Me Gone, Haslett focuses tightly on a family tormented by father-and-son battles with chronic depression and anxiety and their attempt, through it all, to answer the question of what constitutes a good, meaningful life. Although by no means a light or easy read, Haslett's new novel forcefully demonstrates that he is unrivaled at capturing the lasting reverberations of suicide and the draining tedium and despair — along with the occasionally fabulous flights of fancy — that accompany intransigent mental illness. And he achieves this with an extraordinary blend of precision, beauty, and tenderness.
By putting the readers in the same position as Michael’s family members, Haslett has pulled off something of a brilliant trick: We feel precisely what they feel — the frustration, the protectiveness, the hope and fear and, yes, the obligation...But make no mistake, the novel’s most rewarding surprise is its heart. Again and again, the characters subtly assert that despite the expense of empathy and the predictable disappointment of love, our tendency to care for one another is warranted. Whether it’s a choice or a learned behavior or a genetic imperative of the species, our constant slouching toward compassion is a lucky obligation. Even when confusing or crazy-making, it’s the higher calling of our blood. It’s a responsibility, a relief.
Imagine Me Gone makes the elemental American landscapes of the previous novel the setting for a more classical tale of family struggle. There seem to be conscious shades of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, as the narrative is told by alternating members of the family who even narrate their own deaths. But there is still a contemporary social critique at work: notably of the pharmaceutical industry and the frightening debts doctors allow vulnerable patients to incur ... Haslett has a great gift for capturing the strikingly different inner worlds of his characters and rendering them in beautiful prose. As in Faulkner, each of the voices emerges from somewhere between speech, thought and writing, but here the characters are articulate enough that we can believe that the words are theirs ... my two days of reading the book felt less like a reading experience than a life experience: two days of terror and loss ... There is a lot about honour and care here: about what it means to honour and care for both ourselves and those we love. Haslett’s prose, so finely adapted for each of the characters, seems to do just this, honouring the living and the dead and rendering life precious.