Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone spans a fourty year period. It begins in the 1960s when Margaret, an American living in London, marries John, who while charming and charismatic has also been battling with depression since he was a teen. Moving back to America they have three children, Michael, Celia and Alec. For most of the children’s childhood John is able to keep the depression at bay, but when his business falls apart and the prospects job wise look grim he decides to take his own life. If that’s not awful enough Michael, the eldest child, suffers from chronic levels of anxiety which results in a lifelong addiction to the drug Klonopin.
Imagine Me Gone reminded me of Miriam Toews brilliant novel All My Puny Sorrows. Both books, with great sensitivity and a dose of humour, not only explore the effects that the mental health of one individual has on an entire family, but raise the uncomfortable idea of suicide as a welcome relief for the one who is suffering. There is this profound moment in Imagine Me Gone where Michael, in the nightmare process of weaning off Klonopin, tells his brother Alec that there’s an “ethical limit to what anyone should have to endure,” a limit that can’t be negated with “sentimentality… with the idea of some indomitable spirit.” It’s hard to acknowledge that sometimes all the hugs and love and compassion in the world won’t mitigate the pain of living another day, another hour, another minute.
Inspite of the subject matter Imagine Me Gone is an accessible, engaging, often laugh out loud funny novel. Haslett gives each family member a distinct voice and there is a warmth to the novel that avoids sentimentality, that’s still grounded in the real and painful. As a consequence Imagine Me Gone is a novel that earns each emotional moment – the tragedy and the joy.