Review by: Kim Wright
Utah Valley University
Imagine Me Gone is not a light read nor is it a very optimistic or uplifting story about mental illness. However, it is a realistic portrayal of the conflict, loss, devotion, joy, sorrow and humanity felt by each family member. The story is told from the point of view of five family members and how they deal with the complexity and nuances of a father and son suffering with mental illness.
I am not usually a big fan of multiple narrators because it can be hard to make a connection to the characters. Yet, using multiple narrators serves an important purpose in this book because it allows the reader to see how both the father and the son’s illness impact the whole family. The book gives readers a look at the complexities of mental illness from multiple views which helps the reader better understand how each member of the family deals with their father and brother and the toll it takes on them.
I was immediately struck by how the author beautifully and hauntingly described what mental illness can feel like. What really caught my attention was how John, the father, described his mental illness – as a monster (p. 78). “There is no getting better. There is no killing the beast. It has hunted me since I was young and will continue until I am dead” (p. 81).
Imagine Me Gone tackles the complexities of mental illness and confronts some tough issues. John’s and Michael’s issues ripple out and deeply affect the whole family. After John’s suicide, the family desperately tries to rescue Michael from the same fate. Each family member grapples with deciding how far they are willing to go to save Michael. In the end Michael decides for them. “[T]here is an ethical limit to what anyone should have to endure” (p. 328).
It is common place to talk about physical illnesses we suffer from – no one thinks twice about it. On the other hand, we bury, ignore, and shame those suffering from mental illness. Why? Because it scares us. Mental illness is a hard concept to grasp and as a society we have not done a good job in helping those suffering from it.
I struggled to get through this book. In retrospect, a big part of my struggle was probably because I don’t have any direct experience with mental illness. I believe my lack of exposure and understanding of mental illnesses made it hard for me to relate to the characters, especially Michael. Despite my struggles, Imagine Me Gone has motivated me to learn more about mental illness. I want to be better prepared to help my students.
As advisors, we have an obligation to help every student who comes through our doors. Students deserve to have a safe place to discuss any issues they have. It is important for us to accept them for who they are, not who we want them to be. We need to get to know our students so that we can recognize when they need help and know who to refer them to. Students are our responsibility. “I wanted him to be better for so long that I had stopped hearing him tell me he was sick. For the first time I saw him now as a man….who had been trying as hard as he could for most of his life simply to get by” (p. 333).
Imagine Me Gone. (2016). Review by Kim Wright. Book by Adam Haslett, Little, Brown and Company. 368 pp., $26.00 (Paperback), ISBN: 978-0-316-26135-7. http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/search/?q=imagine+me+gone&imprint=Little%2C+Brown+and=Company