Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett Imagine Me Gone: 9780316261333: Haslett, Adam: Books

Margaret has tried her best to keep her marriage to John and their 3 children’s lives as “normal” as possible, but she has not been able to stifle her fear that John’s formidable depression might return at any time. Steadfast in her love for him, she stands by him, even as he is unable to maintain even the fiction of function. Yet, as she is trying desperately to guide her children through their adolescence, she cannot prevent the tragedy that ends up defining them. Maybe, she thinks, she can keep them close enough to show them that family can help each other get through.

The sheer beauty of the writing in this novel carries it to great heights. The story is told from a rotation of voices, which strengthens the perspective and gives us a glimpse into the minds of each member of this close-knit and deeply pained family. There is such imagery, almost poetry, in the descriptions and the way ideas are shared. Michael, the eldest of the 3 children, has inherited his father’s mental illness, and it manifests in a mania, obsessions, and overwhelming and paralyzing guilt. He often rambles on, the typical “flight of ideas” of someone with mania. One of his rants, during a loan deferment application, contains the following passage: “I was selected by the Department of Education to voyage on their first Student Loan Probe to Jupiter, as one of four debitnauts. We traveled for years, passing through nebulae of internships and retail, through the wake of an imploding technology boom, and on through the outer rings of bankruptcy, before finally reaching the planet’s gaseous surface. Our hope was to make contact with the lost colony of the underemployed.” (Page 290) And so on.

The quality of the writing extends to the character development as well, in my opinion. We get inside the brains of Michael, of his sister, Celia, and his much younger brother, Alec. We learn how they cope, how they don’t cope, and how they rely on each other to get through. Their bond is just as dysfunctional as it is functional – typical and realistic. They fight each other and fight for each other. But there is always love underlying all of it – and that is communicated with the warmth and the humor and even the eye rolls that we can so clearly envision.

So yes, this book has its depressing overtones, but it is so beautifully written that it is worth the hardship of it. It is also such a realistic portrait of mental illness and its impact on a family that it’s our duty not to shy away from it.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be depressed or to have a panic attack – read this book.  In it, Matt Haig shares his experience with depression and anxiety and invites you straight into his brain.  You sit there with him at the brink of suicide,  you hold your breath as he wrestles with his demons and you ache with his pain. He chronicles his years of experiencing depression and anxiety and actually comes to a sort of peace with it, ultimately, seeming to acknowledge that it has led him to feel things more deeply in both directions, whether toward pain or toward joy.

I think this is an important book to read.  While nothing can ever really give anyone a perfect picture of what it feels like to have depression – and I’m sure it feels different for each individual who experiences it – this does, I believe, give a vivid, repetitive, and detailed description.  There are analogies, lists, comparisons, images, and examples of ways in which the author’s life was impaired by his illness that go beyond what most expect from what we think of depression.  His was particularly severe.

And I think it’s important that we as members of our society, such as it is today, familiarize ourselves as much as possible with the symptoms of depression and anxiety because it is, sadly,  so prevalent.  We need to be aware of how severe it can be, how invisible it can be, and how crippling it can be.  We also must learn how to help someone who is suffering with it.  There are suggestions in this book, which are quite helpful.

On the negative side, I believe this book was not well edited.  I found t grammatically lazy, somewhat repetitive, and missing large chunks of the story.  How does Matt actually get better?  Just time?   When does he get married?  And where do the two kids come in?  What role do his parents play really in his recovery?  There is so much that is glossed over  How has he been able to write through the depression?  What does he write about?

I like the philosophical tangents – there is a great amount of wisdom and helpful advice for others with depression and anxiety and for those who may be around those who suffer.  And I do think this book is an important read.  I wish the actual writing  had been given a bit more attention…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant

The best perk of writing a book blog is that I’ve gotten some fantastic recommendations from fellow book lovers.  This may be one of my favorites — thank you, Larry and Jim!

Eleanor Oliphant starts out in this story actually believing herself to be completely fine.  She is very much self-sufficient – she has a job, she has keeps herself clean and nourished and has her very practical routine which gets her through each week.  When she suddenly sees the man of her dreams at a party, a rock singer who is very handsome and would likely satisfy her Mummy’s vision of who would be sophisticated enough for her, she decides to go on a mission to spruce herself up a bit so that when she actually meets this man, she’ll convince him that they are meant for each other.  In the course of her doing this, a sudden incident with a co-worker, becomes a distracting adventure that opens up Eleanor’s world and enables her to see how she can truly heal toward becoming completely “fine.”

The writing in this book is magical.  The author writes of pain with humor and raw honesty all at the same time.  There is no over-dramatization, there is no explosiveness.  It’s quiet and understated and because it is subtle, even awkward because it is from Eleanor’s voice, it sneaks straight into your heart.  It made me laugh out loud but it also revealed darkness and sadness that almost choked me.  Few authors can do this with such grace and tenderness.

Eleanor develops her first real friendship with a coworker, Raymond, whom she finds initially almost irritating, with his smoking, his unkempt scruffiness, and his difficulty with being punctual.  But she learns that what really matters is that he is also kind and generous, and loyal – and that he is there for her when she really needs someone to be there for her.  That this is actually what friends do.  She’s just never had this before.

This is a beautiful book from beginning to end – the kind that you don’t want to put down but that you don’t want to end either.  I am reluctant to start the next book because I just want to live with these characters for a bit.

You will too – I promise!

This is truly a MUST READ!