Review: Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Title: Imagine Me Gone
Author: Adam Haslett
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Source: Free ARC from Little, Brown and Company

Rating: A

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: Mental illness is a demon that relentlessly haunts the sufferer whilst also laying waste to all those they love. Or, at least, it has the potential to do so. Often the people who care for the mentally ill are deeply affected in ways they rarely realize. It impacts their relationship with the sufferer as well as the relationships they develop outside of their family. In Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett, we get to see how Michael’s mental illness (and that of his father) impacts all of the members of his family, as well as the few true friends he makes over the years.

This is not a light read. It isn’t a pleasant feel-good book, nor is it uplifting or particularly optimistic. It doesn’t really show how bad things can get with mental illness, but it gives a very realistic view into some of the trials and tribulations of all those who are touched by it. It certainly gets bad enough. And I appreciate that it wasn’t an over-dramatization of the worst case scenario, but instead, perhaps an introspective look at the more usual scenario.

As a society, we bury and ignore and shame mental illness and those suffering from it. Without any direct experience, we can’t begin to fathom what their lives, or the lives of their families, might be like. For some reason, we cannot accept the idea that the mind can be broken in ways that are difficult, sometimes even impossible, to fix. Either we are terrified by the possibilities (this could happen to me or my child!) or we are apathetic and lack understanding (they are weak, they aren’t trying hard enough). Either way, we need more books like this. We need more education and exposure and understanding. We need to be talking about it because so many people are affected by mental health issues, a great deal more than we realize because so many hide, out of shame or lack of understanding. You may think you don’t know anyone with mental illness (just like you probably think you don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted), but you most likely do. They just don’t talk about it. They manage it, or mismanage it, silently. Without support.

But I digress…back to the actual book. It was very well written. With each chapter, we are offered the perspective of someone else in the family, volleying back and forth between father, mother, Michael, and each of his siblings. Normally, I’m not a fan of this multiple-narrator approach, but it serves a very important purpose in this case. Because we need to see how one person’s illness impacts all those involved. And what a fantastic job Haslett does of developing each individual voice, of telling the whole story.

Mental illness is complex and the impacts are broadly sweeping. We are all impacted by those who suffer with debilitating mental disorders, and as a society, we need to learn more and do better.

A heavy read, but a must read.

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