If I had to sum up Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett in one word it would be "personal." And since I'm already in an unexplained, uncharacteristic (at least for the summer version of me) less than stellar night I figured I'd go there, at least for a few minutes.
For those unfamiliar with the book, it's basically about a family who must deal with the aftermath of their father's suicide, a result of suffering from depression. The novel examines the lead up to the death and then how it impacts the lives of his widow and three younger children as they become adults.
For those unfamiliar with my life, congratulations. Just kidding. I've wrote about it a few times here and there before on this blog, but for those who haven't read, when I was in ninth grade my father, who was truly biploar (not just moody), took his own life. He left behind my mom, who he was sort of separated from (long, story that is not my own to tell), myself, my two younger sisters, and my younger brother (and bills, a mortgage, a messy garage, itty-bitty life insurance policy, etc...).
But really got me about this book was how well Haslett did when showing how mental illness sort of interweaves itself into the fibers of the family, so well that you're not sure what would have been there if things hadn't gone they way they had or not. As an adult, is a person the way they are because their parent died or would they have been that way anyway? What exactly does living with someone with a mental illness catalyze, biologically and environmentally? It's complicated and I think his treatment of the three siblings was very well-done. And I can seen this within my own family; we've all dealt with things differently. Personally, I can see my desire for financial stability, clarity regarding the future, and emotional transparency in others as a result of my upbringing. While I am fortunate to not have inherited my dad's bipolar disease, I am prone to touches of anxiety and depression that I've worked hard to control through strategies like exercise and keeping busy (but who's to say that this has anything to do with my dad? Millions of people with no family illness deal with anxiety and depression... classic nature vs nurture situation). It's so different when your parent dies from suicide, than say, cancer. You can get a bumper sticker for cancer and participate in a charity walk; but when you live with someone who is afflicted with mental illness and is very... difficult... to be around, the situation is possibly more complex.
Haslett's representation of the wife also pleased me. I think when you hear the word "widow" you assume that the person is overcome with grief and walks around in black for several months. And while this is true, sometimes, I think women who are left with struggling households and multiple children have to put this grief aside and focus on survival. Plus, let's not forget the anger- when someone succumbs to a more physical illness it's easier to forgive, but when someone takes their own life I think things become a little more complex.
The degrees of coping that the family does as time passes also stood out to me. Some people move on quickly, some not so much. And, like with everything else in this story, none of it shown as the wrong was to handle such an event; their actions are conveyed honestly, but there doesn't seem to be any condescension on the author's part.
While it did take me a few pages longer than I would have liked to get into the book, once things started rolling I really sort of bonded with it. It's an important read; it can give insight to those with little experience and be a sort of comfort for those who do.