I finished this book last night and had to sit with my thoughts for an entire day before I even attempted to put my feelings into words. This one hit me like a ton of bricks – it deals with heavy subject matter in a very honest and sympathetic way. It took me a while to get into, but once I did, I craved the words and could not put the book down. It was haunting, and beautiful, and heartbreaking.
Imagine Me Gone, written by Adam Haslett, takes a hard look at mental illness and the effects it has on one family. The way Haslett describes mental illness is profound and humbling:
But that won’t do when the monster has its funnel driven into the back of your head and is sucking the light coming though your eyes straight out of you into the mouth of oblivion. So like a cripple I long for what others don’t notice they have: ordinary meaning.
Each of the characters were developed so deeply by Haslett that I found my heart aching alongside them as they tried to navigate this pervasive world. It was lovely and inspiring to see how each of the family members valiantly fought to stick together – that this was an illness that each of them had ownership with instead of leaving the one child affected the most, Michael, alone and adrift in the world he never could quite understand.
What do you fear when you fear everything? Time passing and not passing. Death and life…But even to say this would abet the lie that terror can be described, when anyone who’s ever known it knows that it has no components but is instead everywhere inside you all the time, until you can recognize yourself only by the tensions that string one minute to the next. And yet I keep lying, by describing, because how else can I avoid this second, and the one after it? This being the condition itself: the relentless need to escape a moment that never ends.
This story is a slow burn that builds up to an explosive ending. The reader is left with just as many questions at the end of the book as they were when they started: what is life worth? Can you save a loved one from the depths of mental illness and the various layers associated with that description – the illness itself, the medical costs, the benefits or costs of prescription medication. The topics are important and extremely timely in our present day. I encourage you to take a chance on this story – and push through the first one hundred pages – enough to get a feel for the direction Haslett wants to take you. Because in the end, you won’t be disappointed. And this is one of those stories that will stick with you for a very long time.
It’s a day I recall not in sadness, but in wonder at all that followed.
Warning: strong triggers throughout the story!