‘Imagine Me Gone’ Tells a Story About Love in Midst of Mental Illness

The novel follows a family over the span of decades as they cope with depression and anxiety.

By Emily DonahueMay 13, 2016 4:55 pm,

Memorial Day is only a few weeks away – that’s the kickoff of the summer reading season. Emily Donahue talks to the author of what’s sure to be one of the biggest novels of the year.

It’s the story of a family: Five people. Five different lives. Five different sets of perspectives, hopes and dreams. And one very real shared fear.

At the center of Imagine Me Gone is a dread, a monster, and the terror that it may just be too much to handle.

Adam Haslett wrote Imagine Me Gone, which has been described as “hypnotic,” “anguished,” “troubling,” and “tragic.” Yet also, “precious,” “beautiful,” and “soaring.”

“I think the book has a lot of levity in it along with the darkness,” he says. “It is a story of a family that begins really from this mother making a decision when she was in London in the 1960s with her fiancé. She discovers that he’s been hospitalized with depression and she has this decision to make: should she go forward with this marriage?”

On the feelings of tension mental illness creates between loved ones:

“I think anybody who has – and who among us hasn’t at some point – experienced anxiety or feeling low or real depression, it’s not a discreet thing. It really infuses the moment or the day or that time of your life. And it does create a tension because it creates a feeling in a family when you’re trying to help the people you love to help you get through something.”

On how Haslett’s own experiences shaped the book:

“One of the sources of the book for me is my own experience in my own family. My father was manic depressive – he killed himself when I was 14. My brother suffered from anxiety. This is certainly the most personal book that I’ve written, and it was the kind of book that I had to write. So I sort of poured myself into it.”

On the challenge of writing from multiple points of view:

“The challenge for me was to find a way to put each of these characters on the page in a way that takes the readers far into the mind of that person as I can – the mind and the spirit. And with Michael, who becomes in a way the lead character because his distress and anxiety become a focus of the family. So even when the other characters are narrating, they’re narrating about Michael’s troubles.

Adam Haslett will speaking at Book People in Austin at 7 p.m. Friday.

Prepared for web by Alexandra Hart.