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Imagine Me Gone
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2017 Book Discussions > Imagine Me Gone - General Discussion, No Spoilers (June 2017)

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Doug Welcome to the group read of Imagine Me Gone. Here are a few questions/suggestions to get the discussion started; as aways, feel free to add any of your own or give your general impressions:

1. Does knowing this was a finalist for the Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critic's Circle, and Kirkus Awards lead to any expectations? How well does this satisfy those? Or does that put any onus on you as the reader to like it more?

2. Multiple narrators have become something of a fashion, but is rarely done well (cf., 'Girl on the Train', in which the three narrators all tend to sound exactly the same). How well does Haslett navigate this trend?

3. For a 'serious' book about depression and mental illness, the novel contains a great deal of humor. Does this enhance or detract from the themes of the book?

4. Some critics have faulted the book for being a family saga in which one character essentially 'hijacks' the narrative. Is that a problem, or inherent in where the story needs to go?

Looking forward to a lively discussion!


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
Thanks for kicking this off Doug. I don't have time to comment in detail today but I have read the first 150 pages and so far it is very good...


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2298 comments I read this audio in October 2016 because it was on the National Book award long list. I rated it 3.5 and rounded up to 4. My review is at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

In response to your questions --

1. Does knowing this was a finalist for the Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critic's Circle, and Kirkus Awards lead to any expectations? How well does this satisfy those? Or does that put any onus on you as the reader to like it more?
I do not expect that just because a book is on an award list that I will like it, either the story or the style, so I'd have to say being on a list does not create expectations for me and does not put any onus on me to like the book.

2. Multiple narrators have become something of a fashion, but is rarely done well (cf., 'Girl on the Train', in which the three narrators all tend to sound exactly the same). How well does Haslett navigate this trend?
I thought the multiple narrators were very well done. The voices were distinct for me.

3. For a 'serious' book about depression and mental illness, the novel contains a great deal of humor. Does this enhance or detract from the themes of the book?
I thought the humorous portions fit very well in the story. They made it more real.

4. Some critics have faulted the book for being a family saga in which one character essentially 'hijacks' the narrative. Is that a problem, or inherent in where the story needs to go?
First, I did not think of this as a family saga, which for me is a story encompassing multiple generations. This one focused on a family but it was the parents and kids only with a mini-role for the father's parents. And when a family has one or more members with a medical issue - mental or physical - it impacts the family dynamics as the ones who are ill become the center of focus. So I don't see that the story was "hijacked" and was likely where the author intended the story to go.


message 4: by Ami (last edited Jun 01, 2017 04:46PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Part I

I just finished part I and am most taken by the individual chapters narrated by the children and John; there is something about Margaret that just rubs me the wrong way, currently. The mystery narrator in the first chapter built up some intrigue; yet, I'm wondering if by the end of Part I I have not already figured out who it is, and what might have happened. I do hope I am wrong..."Very" wrong.

Prior to reading John's section, I would have said Michael's letters to Aunt Penny were the most interesting, and mention of Donna Summers being on board a highlight-the humor was not lost on me! In fact, it was nice amidst the display of inner workings in Michael seen through the letters. The imaginative frenzy with which he wrote was suffocating to me upon this initial reading.

I've never ready anything by Mr. Haslett, but his understanding of depression/anxiety and how it manifests itself in John, perhaps Michael too, appears to be spot on. It's absolutely riveting how these words describing John's state of mind, comparing it to a monster stealing the ability to speak...
The monster doesn't take words. It may take speech, but not words in the head, which are its minions. The army of the tiny, invisible dead wielding their tiny, spinning scythes, cutting at the flesh of the mind. Unlike ordinary blades, they sharpen with use. They're keenest in repetition. Self-accusation being nothing of not repetitive. There is nothing deep about this. It is merely endless(77).
One of the more formidable moments in Part I, I thought, as it took my view of what this character endures/has endured to a whole other level.


June | 22 comments It's funny that you mention Margaret rubbing you the wrong way. I felt that of all the characters, she was the most inconsistently drawn. John and the children were so unforgettable, but Margaret sometimes wandered into a motherly cliche to me.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2298 comments I thought Margaret was a well-crafted character. She seemed completely realist.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
Ami @4 - I was intrigued by your comment about the mystery narrator - in my paperback edition the narrator's names appear like chapter titles, and the first one is labelled Alec.

Almost half way through and already the second section is starting to colour my perceptions of the first. I had no problem with the multiple narrative viewpoints - in fact the changes in perspective help to keep the narrative fresh.

I don't find it helpful to think much about prize nominations, other than as a means of bringing writers to wider audiences.

I like the humour in the book - without it much of the book would be much more depressing and I felt it helped one establish sympathy with the characters.

I think it is too early for me to form a considered opinion on the last question - so far I had no problem, though I do agree that so far Margaret is the least interesting narrator.


message 9: by Ami (last edited Jul 17, 2017 07:03PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Part II

If John, in Part I, succumbed to his monster, then Michael in Part II appears to be running from the grasp of his. Either by flooding the noise in his mind via pharmaceuticals, or pursuing pseudo-relationships with women who are clearly not the right choice for him, Michael is frantic and relentless in his pursuit to expend this unyielding energy into something other than himself. Michael's entries in Part II resemble his letters from the previous section in that he taps into this heightened state of mind as a coping mechanism. We've jumped from traveling across the pond on a ship with a child sex slave ring on level 3, to a therapy session dynamic comparable to a combat zone with crossfire. Was anybody surprised by why Michael agrees with what Celia has said?

This novel has been touted as being "powerful," but my apprehensions regarding it continue to grow despite it. I'm hoping act III will anchor more of this power in because currently, it's "moving," at best. I do hope Aunt Penny has a section!


message 10: by Ami (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Hugh wrote: "Ami @4 - I was intrigued by your comment about the mystery narrator - in my paperback edition the narrator's names appear like chapter titles, and the first one is labelled Alec.

Almost half way t..."


Okay, so you had me in a frenzy this morning while I read your post, Hugh! My brain was already groggy from reading Part II, but to have missed this detail I attributed to a writing tool having created some air of mystery...What? I went back to check, and none of Alec's sections are labeled in my copy...Yes, I got the dud novel, it seems!! Weird. SMH!


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments June wrote: "It's funny that you mention Margaret rubbing you the wrong way. I felt that of all the characters, she was the most inconsistently drawn. John and the children were so unforgettable, but Margaret s..."

She rubs me the wrong way also, but I haven't been able to put my finger on why. I also am not enjoying Michael...his chapters alternate between irritating and boring. I thought the chapter where he is supposedly filling out treatment forms would never end. As someone who suffers from anxiety, you would think I would identify with him somehow. I do not. I thought John was the most interesting. Unfortunately there aren't any chapters from his point of view left where I am in the book.


message 12: by Ami (last edited Jun 02, 2017 09:29AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Parts I & II
LindaJ^ wrote: "I thought Margaret was a well-crafted character. She seemed completely realist."

June wrote: "It's funny that you mention Margaret rubbing you the wrong way. I felt that of all the characters, she was the most inconsistently drawn. John and the children were so unforgettable, but Margaret s..."

I agree with your sentiment so far. Margaret as wife and mother, would appear to have the most consistently solid narrative, when instead she falls to the wayside as the novel progresses...So far! I'm almost at the finish line :)

LindaJ^... it could also be that she's not a character I really like, in general. For example, her self-deprecating in part II...I can't stand it. The kids have been through enough, more than enough, in fact; to now have to deal with their mother's guilt in this manner...It's selfish of her.


message 13: by Marc (last edited Jun 02, 2017 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2567 comments Mod
If certain chapters were not titled like Ami's copy, that might have made for an even more interesting read!

I just finished yesterday and am still kind of ruminating on the book. In general, it started off strong (5 stars for part I) and sort of tapered down to 3 stars for me by the end. The humor started to wear a little thin, despite my loving it at first (Michael's letters to his aunt are priceless). I can't quite put my finger on what rubbed me the wrong way... it's almost like its initial strengths turned into crutches or schtick somewhere along the way. Will try to sort my thoughts a bit more before commenting again.

Very much enjoying everyone else's comments and the questions that kicked this thread off (nice work, Doug!).


message 14: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Marc wrote: "If certain chapters were not titled like Ami's copy, that might have made for an even more interesting read!

I just finished yesterday and am still kind of ruminating on the book. In general, it s..."


Thanx, Marc -- am enjoying everyone's comments and lively discussion, even the negative ones! Am amazed we are only on Day 2 and already many have finished it!

My own BFF got about 1/3 of the way through the book and abandoned it as just not her cuppa, but think that might have had to do with her listening to it on audio, which I am doing this time through and NOT enjoying it half as much. Is anyone else struggling through the audio?

I too felt that Margaret was the least compelling narrator, but figured that had more to do with her function as matriarch, and having to sit back and see Michael repeating the same things as John, and thus being somewhat paralyzed/inert.


message 15: by Julie (last edited Jun 02, 2017 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments Marc wrote: " The humor started to wear a little thin, despite my loving it at first (Michael's letters to his aunt are priceless). ..."

My sense of humor is different. I just ended up rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of his letters by the time they were over.
I did find the Operation Family Therapy chapter amusing but overall, I don't find the book very humorous.


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments Doug wrote: "Thanx, Marc -- am enjoying everyone's comments and lively discussion, even the negative ones! Am amazed we are only on Day 2 and already many have finished it! ..."

I started early with the hope of being done by now too. But I got distracted by another book I am enjoying better and still need to go back and finish. :-)


message 17: by Ami (last edited Jun 02, 2017 09:16PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments III

My eyes were bugging while reading about what was transpiring in the cabin. If that wasn't an egregious error on all fronts on Alec's part, I don't know what was? This, and the moment where Margaret wouldn't call an ambulance for Michael...Well, my heart just went out to Michael in these instances because he's the one who was ultimately suffering; not only by a debilitating disease, but also at the hands of those who "thought" they were helping him. It has to be absolutely maddening for somebody severely debilitated, like Michael, to be pleading his case about his sickness and there be ears available to hearing him, but not listening. I disliked Alec's over enthusiastic optimism battling Michael's supplication while in withdrawal.

Trip up to MSU...If this wasn't a train wreck waiting to happen! Was the ability to "hope for the best" and "champion behind" brother/son so blinding, that uprooting somebody who had been living a regimented lifestyle for so long, and dropping them into a completely new environment without any familiar surroundings was considered to be a good idea?

It seems to me, there are too many moving parts under the guise of "giving help" that are at play; yet, the one most important aspect the family failed to act on while partnering with a doctor was the medical care Michael was receiving. Shouldn't his family have been more vigilant about this aspect of his life above all else? In the end, it sadly boils down to people doing their best as they know how for their loved ones, but it begs the question...How do you know if "your" best is even good enough for your loved ones when they continue to suffer?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2298 comments Doug wrote: "My own BFF got about 1/3 of the way through the book and abandoned it as just not her cuppa, but think that might have had to do with her listening to it on audio, which I am doing this time through and NOT enjoying it half as much. Is anyone else struggling through the audio? "

I listened to the audio and thought it was ok. In thinking back on the book, I even remember where I was walking when I read certain parts, such as Michael's letters to his Aunt.


message 19: by Ami (last edited Jun 02, 2017 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Doug wrote: "Welcome to the group read of Imagine Me Gone. Here are a few questions/suggestions to get the discussion started; as aways, feel free to add any of your own or give your general impressions:

1. Do..."


Multiple narrators have become something of a fashion, but is rarely done well (cf., 'Girl on the Train', in which the three narrators all tend to sound exactly the same). How well does Haslett navigate this trend?
In terms of fleshing out John and Michael, the use of multiple narrators was beneficial; where it falls short was the inconsistency in individual narrator portrayal...Margaret fell short to me, she was jaggedly written in the vein of a stereotypical naive mother instead of someone more robust given her circumstances. Considering the utilization of multiple narrators and the aspect of debilitating suffering, I was often reminded of Hanya Yanagihara's, A Little Life, whom I thought wrote a superb piece using both writing device and similar subject matter.

For a 'serious' book about depression and mental illness, the novel contains a great deal of humor. Does this enhance or detract from the themes of the book?
It was necessary and welcome. Isn't the use of humor a coping mechanism in itself while enduring serious times? Although, the weight of the subject matter at hand was grave, those moments were fleeting since the heft of the narrative was dedicated to the mental carnage left behind from John, and that being created by Michael in the present. Michael's letters and admittance questionnaire were some of the most sad and cringeworthy moments in the narrative; yet, the humor peppered throughout it made it more digestible; thus enhancing the narrative.

Some critics have faulted the book for being a family saga in which one character essentially 'hijacks' the narrative.
I can see it being a family saga if the author would have delved deeper into the mental disease as it pertained to John's grand-father and mother as there was only a brief mentioning of them in John's section. Considering what Haslett has written covering John and Michael, and the fallout regarding the other characters, I don't see why it wouldn't be a family saga. I'm not sure if it's so much so a "hijacking" of the narrative by one character? It may be a natural progression of moving parts coming together for better cohesiveness, regarding a subject matter that is at play here Otherwise, wouldn't we be reading short stories? I think of Elliot Perlman's, Seven Types of Ambiguity here...Seven stories about one particular incident. I don't know, perhaps, I misunderstood the question?


message 20: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Ami wrote: "Doug wrote: "Welcome to the group read of Imagine Me Gone. Here are a few questions/suggestions to get the discussion started; as aways, feel free to add any of your own or give your general impres..."

Funny you should mention the Perlman, as I ALMOST nominated 'Seven Types'... but someone already beat me to it by nominating his 'Street Sweeper' (which I didn't like half as much!)

Thanx for your insights!


message 21: by Ami (last edited Jun 02, 2017 05:55PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Doug wrote: "Ami wrote: "Doug wrote: "Welcome to the group read of Imagine Me Gone. Here are a few questions/suggestions to get the discussion started; as aways, feel free to add any of your own or give your ge..."

Doug, read it. It's very good... My introduction to Perlman! ;) I"ve been wanting to read "Street Sweeper" for while, I do wonder if I've already been spoiled by "SToA," however. Thanks!


Joy D My thoughts on the "starter" questions:

1. If a book is nominated for multiple awards, I expect it to be well-written. Whether I like it or not is another story. Individual preferences are so different. Sometimes I like them a lot (such as All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg); sometimes I really don't (such as The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan).

2. Regarding multiple narrators, I quite enjoyed this book and thought the characters were well-drawn. Each had his/her own voice. Margaret has been referenced above. My thought of her was that she seemed to be a product of her generation (from references we were given, she had to have been born in the early 40's). She reminded me of my mother.

3. Regarding humor, I likened it to "comic relief" in movies. It also showed that the characters were not one-dimensional. It made them more realistic to me.

4. I did not feel Michael "hijacked" the narrative. I thought the amount of narrative spent on Michael was intended to put the reader in the shoes of one of the family members. It gave us a glimpse into the extent of Michael's mental health issues. It also served to differentiate Michael's mental state from John's (which I found to be very different).


message 23: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Ami wrote: "Doug wrote: "Ami wrote: "Doug wrote: "Welcome to the group read of Imagine Me Gone. Here are a few questions/suggestions to get the discussion started; as aways, feel free to add any of your own or..."

Oh, I HAVE read SToA ... but did so when it first came out, so wanted to do a re-read! It's been awhile, but remember it was very good and quite unusual! Cheers!


Beverly | 137 comments This was an audio book for me as I needed to finish before going out of town.

I always think it is interesting on which books get nominated for which awards and while I am not read for those I have not heard of that get nominated I will look them up to see if they intrigue me.
But when I see a book as a finalist on multiple list then I am more likely to read it (Not that I necessarily will finish)

I enjoy storylines with multiple narrators when it is well done as in this book. I felt that they each had a distinct voice which for this storyline enhanced showcasing a timely issues, the effect of mental illness on a family.

I thought the humor was well done and realistic.


Beverly | 137 comments Joy D wrote: "My thoughts on the "starter" questions:

1. If a book is nominated for multiple awards, I expect it to be well-written. Whether I like it or not is another story. Individual preferences are so dif..."


Glad there is someone else who is not a fan of The Sport of Kings


Beverly | 137 comments As for one narrator "hijacking" the story - it helped to illustrate that mental illness does not only affect the individual but their families members and all those that touch those family members. So to use the term "hijack" - Michael "hijacked" the lives of those around them.


Beverly | 137 comments Doug wrote: "Marc wrote: "If certain chapters were not titled like Ami's copy, that might have made for an even more interesting read!

I just finished yesterday and am still kind of ruminating on the book. In ..."


I did this as an audio. And at the beginning it was not working for me because at first I was confused by the way all of the characters were introduced and how they related to each other. But then it quickly settled down for me for the rest of the audio.


Beverly | 137 comments I found Margaret to be an interesting voice in the narrative. At times I was frustrated with her but then I put my myself in her shoes. She was an enabler and a protector and was so paralyzed by her husband's sudden suicide that she could not take charge of her own life and feared losing Michael the same way.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2298 comments Beverly wrote: "I found Margaret to be an interesting voice in the narrative. At times I was frustrated with her but then I put my myself in her shoes. She was an enabler and a protector and was so paralyzed by he..."

Exactly and that's why I liked Margaret as a character -- she was realistic, i.e., that is the way I would have expected a wife/mother of her generation to act.


Ernie (ewnichols) | 58 comments I definitely started off not liking Margaret, but I still found her interesting. I tend to agree more with Beverly and Linda's latest comments now that I'm further into the book. I struggled with Margaret in the beginning, but I still find her interesting, though frustrating as well, and her position in the family is a fragile one. Hard for me to imagine... I do think she's a well-drawn character.

I agree with Julie that I do not find this book humorous. I think the letters to Aunt Penny could have been removed entirely. I thought they were neither amusing nor necessary. I'd say it's my one big issue with the book so far, and for me, already cannot be a 5-star book regardless of what is to come. I am enjoying the multiple viewpoints though, as I do think that they keep the narrative fresh, and I believe that is perhaps the only way this book would work.

I read You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett when it first came out for a book club I was in at the time, and I was not a fan. No one was. It was a short story collection though, so different from this one. I remember not disliking his writing but the storytelling, ultimately thinking the collection was rather forgettable. I think Imagine Me Gone has considerably surpassed my first experience with this author. I never thought I'd pick up another book by him, so I am glad that I am reading this one.

I think Hugh hit it right on the money when he referred to prize nominations as a means of bringing writers to wider audiences. It's great to have them, but I always form my own opinion. It's all subjective...to each his own. But I do refer to them and seek out new voices and novels - and have definitely found some that I enjoy.

For me, I'm not sure that I would say there was an expectation that the book would be enjoyable because it appears on some lists, or rather, that I would find it incredible, but there is some semblance of expectation for sure, whether it be that it is thought-provoking or merely relevant. It would be interesting to see what a panel of this group would decide was the best book read in this group after a year. I imagine it would be quite a lengthy discussion/debate, as I'm sure it would be for all or most of the judging panels.

I look forward to finishing this book. I, like Ami, am still seeking the "powerful."


message 31: by Ami (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Ernie wrote: "I definitely started off not liking Margaret, but I still found her interesting. I tend to agree more with Beverly and Linda's latest comments now that I'm further into the book. I struggled with M..."

I think the letters to Aunt Penny could have been removed entirely. I thought they were neither amusing nor necessary. I'd say it's my one big issue with the book so far, and for me, already cannot be a 5-star book regardless of what is to come.
I find the letters to be of great importance to Michael's narrative for they show how deeply troubled he is, and how far removed from realty it renders him.


Ernie (ewnichols) | 58 comments I just couldn't appreciate what the author was doing here. I thought it was distracting, and I think that his mental illness could have been better demonstrated another way. I do not feel that anything I've read from Michael's narrative so far has moved the book along in any way. I also didn't find the letters humorous, and I think that was one of the main goals of the author, to offer this reprieve, so to speak. I find it unnecessary. It just doesn't work for me.

I'm also struggling with the book a bit through the middle.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2298 comments Ernie wrote: "I also didn't find the letters humorous, and I think that was one of the main goals of the author, to offer this reprieve, so to speak. I find it unnecessary. It just doesn't work for me."

I did find the letters humorous, at least the first couple. It actually took awhile before I realized he was making everything up and not just exaggerating things that had happened. I did not realize at that point in the book the severity of Michael's illness.


message 34: by Ami (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Ernie wrote: "I also didn't find the letters humorous, and I think that was one of the main goals of the author, to offer this reprieve, so to speak. I find it unnecessary. It just doesn't work for..."

Yes, me too LindaJ... I didn't realize at first he was making everything up until it just became too absurd to comprehend it.


message 35: by Ami (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Ernie wrote: "I just couldn't appreciate what the author was doing here. I thought it was distracting, and I think that his mental illness could have been better demonstrated another way. I do not feel that anyt..."

Gotcha, Ernie.

Yes, the middle felt very disjointed compared to Part I... My interest was perfunctory in attendance here.


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments I couldn't decide if he was purposely making up the stuff in the letters or if he was psychotic and hallucinating.


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments Ernie wrote: "I'm also struggling with the book a bit through the middle. ..."

I did as well. I had to take a break and read something else. If I am not mistaken, I think I am at the beginning of part 3.


message 38: by Ami (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 335 comments Julie wrote: "I couldn't decide if he was purposely making up the stuff in the letters or if he was psychotic and hallucinating."

Well, didn't Margaret say Michael had a tendency to escape into his own imagination or something, when reality didn't suit him? I think it may have been in part I.


message 39: by Jan (new)

Jan Notzon | 100 comments I find myself fascinated during the "Michael" parts, but they also give me a headache. If I found the letter to Aunt Penny hilarious does that mean I have a sick sense of humor? Am I as deranged as he? Like others, I didn't realize until later that it was a manifestation of serious mental illness.
Interesting about Margaret. In the first passage from her, I found her very sympathetic--not so much as things went on. Hmm... I certainly empathized with John, although I have to admit it must be taxing to live with a person with debilitating depression (I know I was/am? no peach).


message 40: by Lucy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lucy | 8 comments I think the book makes excellent use of the movement between narrators, allowing some overlap in depicting particular episodes while also moving the story forward. The unconventional – even playful - aspect of Michael’s sections was, for me, brilliantly achieved, suggesting the imaginative power of this character, which makes his mental struggles even more poignant. I tend to agree with the view that Margaret’s character is the least effectively drawn, but I think this is connected to the shift in focus towards the younger generation - Margaret is left behind in the forward motion of the children’s life stories. It is hard to recognise the older Margaret as in any way connected to the woman who first met and married John, and this may be linked to a kind of severance in her inner life caused by his death. As Beverly says, Michael’s ‘hijacking’ of the narrative is in many ways apt, since his struggle dominates the family, as well as influencing the way the other characters understand themselves and their relationships.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
The multiple narrators throughout the book worked fairly well for me and each person had his or her own distinct voice. It certainly helped move the book forward and kept things engaging. However, I think there may have been too many speakers because it felt like the book was trying to do a lot of things, which meant no particular story point was truly explored in depth. I read up a bit on the author and saw that he primarily wrote short stories until recently. This book sort of felt like a collection of related pieces that don't fully hold up on their own but don't necessarily feel cohesive as a novel either.

The humor didn't really work for me. Normally I'd laugh at this type of humor but here it was supposed to demonstrate how lost or removed from reality Michael was supposed to be. I realize each person suffers anxiety and/or depression in their own way, and I shouldn't project my own experience on to the character, but it was incredibly difficult not to. I suffer from anxiety and clinical depression (though nowhere near as severely as either Michael or John do) and I didn't find Michael's experience very relatable. Again, I shouldn't be projecting my experience onto his, especially since the character clearly is suffering from something, but I felt somewhat misrepresented. When I want to tell friends what it feels like, I point them to a couple of blog posts by Allie Brosh on Hyperbole and a Half: Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two. In the first post, she writes this about her depression:

I spent months shut in my house, surfing the internet on top of a pile of my own dirty laundry which I set on the couch for "just a second" because I experienced a sudden moment of apathy on my way to the washer and couldn't continue. And then, two weeks later, I still hadn't completed that journey. But who cares - it wasn't like I had been showering regularly and sitting on a pile of clothes isn't necessarily uncomfortable. But even if it was, I couldn't feel anything through the self hatred anyway, so it didn't matter. JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE.

Slowly, my feelings started to shrivel up. The few that managed to survive the constant beatings staggered around like wounded baby deer, just biding their time until they could die and join all the other carcasses strewn across the wasteland of my soul.

I couldn't even muster up the enthusiasm to hate myself anymore.

I just drifted around, completely unsure of what I was feeling or whether I could actually feel anything at all.


She captures that feeling of apathy and numbness so well, which I found at odds with Michael's obsessive need to call Caleigh, his mother, and sister, and his attachment to specific women that lasted for years at a time.

As someone else pointed out, it is very hard not to draw comparisons between this book and A Little Life, though where ALL is overly dramatic and crosses the line to becoming "tragedy porn," IMG doesn't seem to treat the topic seriously enough and bends to worn-out stereotypes and tropes of depressed people being some otherly or separate form of human, who will inevitably wind up over-medicated, hospitalized, or dead.

I didn't think the book was hijacked by Michael's story. Instead, the title "Imagine Me Gone" led me to believe the story was about first John's experience, then Michael's, as well as how the other family members reacted to certain events and handled their emotions.

The more I think about it, the angrier this book makes me! I definitely think the author is a good writer and I was compelled to read to the end, but I find so many aspects of the book lacking. The book seems to be centered around the family's reactions to two depressed family members, but we don't deal with the immediate aftermath of the most traumatic events of the book - instead, we skip forward when things have had time to settle. Alec's actions in the third section are completely irresponsible and incomprehensible. Perhaps what frustrated me even more than his time with Michael in the cabin was the lack of aftermath or reckoning. No acknowledgement that Alec made a mistake, that perhaps the medications weren't all bad, or that Alec had acted completely selfishly. Instead, there was a sense that what happened to Michael was inevitable and it was only a matter of time until it did. Maybe so, but perhaps there were less drastic measures they could have tried first. Am I taking all this too personally? Perhaps, but it is very hard to distance myself from this portrayal of depression and anxiety.


message 42: by Jan (new)

Jan Notzon | 100 comments Caroline wrote: "The multiple narrators throughout the book worked fairly well for me and each person had his or her own distinct voice. It certainly helped move the book forward and kept things engaging. However, ..."
Caroline: Thank you so much for sharing your reaction to IMG and for sharing such a personal and detailed reaction to Michael's pathology. It has been my experience that depression and anxiety take different forms. I can attest to the fact that it often takes the form of desperation and obsession, especially in a case as extreme as Michael's. Every girlfriend, every new group, causes (like reparations) hold out the hope of relief from the constant desperation and anxiety.
Drugs, like SSRIs make life tolerable for many (including myself), but such an extreme case of anxiety as Michael had...well, I don't know if an effective treatment has been found. Sedatives do work, but like all drugs, one develops a tolerance. Nicotine was my drug of choice. If I hadn't smoked for a good while, it really worked. Then as tolerance grew it went from pleasure to bare alleviation. When I quit, the withdrawal symptoms were pretty severe. And I've never stopped missing it.
You make a good point about Alec and his "solution". My feeling is that Michael was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. And it rang very true for me. The drugs were killing him, and without the drugs, life was killing him. He was one tortured soul. I think his dark sense of humor as a child (in his letters to Aunt Penny) were a way of dealing with it. Then, as an adult, that ideal love or ideal justice were chimera that he clung to: the last of Pandora's ills.


message 43: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Since we are at the more than halfway point through the month, as moderator I just wanted to let everyone know how grateful I am for all the astute comments and opinions. I am somewhat surprised at how many people DIDN'T like the book, but then, that's one of the reasons to join in such groups as this - to get differing opinions! :-)

For those who either haven't read the book, or have, but haven't commented as yet - there is still time to do both!

Happy reading, regardless.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Jan, thanks so much for sharing your response! It's definitely good to get another perspective - especially as I mentioned I was having a hard time not projecting my own experience onto Michael's. Perhaps one success of this book is that it got us talking about the subject as well as how people experience pain and suffering (both of themselves and of others close to them) in different ways.


carissa I read this book when it first came out. I've been debating about whether I would enter this conversation. I know these characters lives, so had high expectations of this book. It's wonderful that it has created so much exposure for endogenic mental health issues, but...for me, it fell short on many levels.

1. Does knowing this was a finalist for the Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critic's Circle, and Kirkus Awards lead to any expectations? How well does this satisfy those? Or does that put any onus on you as the reader to like it more?

Of course it creates higher expectations, but not unrealistic ones. I expect a well-written tale that is out of the ordinary, but don't expect to enjoy it personally.

2. Multiple narrators have become something of a fashion, but is rarely done well (cf., 'Girl on the Train', in which the three narrators all tend to sound exactly the same). How well does Haslett navigate this trend?

He navigates it as well as most, but not better. It made sense to show things from many perspectives, but the writing bored me. Someone else nailed it on this thread, it felt repetitive and contrived. I didn't feel emotionally connected to any of the characters.
He did make each character's voice distinct and a separate entity. Each of those character's seemed plausible. A few here had issues with Margaret, but I know people like that. She felt like a realistic character as much as Michael.

3. For a 'serious' book about depression and mental illness, the novel contains a great deal of humor. Does this enhance or detract from the themes of the book?

I don't recall it being funny. At all! The humor is similar to the type of humor the 2 people in my life that have/had depressive disorders use, so maybe that's why it wasn't humorous. It was kinda realistic. And the fact that it's mostly lies/distortions make them completely unfunny. They were the saddest part of the book, aside from the ending.

4. Some critics have faulted the book for being a family saga in which one character essentially 'hijacks' the narrative. Is that a problem, or inherent in where the story needs to go?

It felt true-to-life. As anyone who has lived with or been in relationship with someone with any type of long-term illness knows, it does become the focal point in the lives of all those involved. It's unavoidable.

I can't really say more than has already been said here.
I am glad the book has created more attention on this subject, but
it didn't get to me emotionally. Which is something I require as a reader. Not everyone needs that.
The ending, in particular, wasn't desperate enough in tone for all that was going on.


message 46: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug As the month ends, as nominator/moderator for this month's read, just want to thank all of you for your participation and great comments/discussion. Much appreciated - I know not all of you loved the book, but hopefully found it a valuable read nonetheless.


message 47: by June (new) - rated it 5 stars

June | 22 comments I enjoyed the book and the discussion. Thank you for leading, Doug.


message 48: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2569 comments Mod
Thanks Doug


Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments I finally finished! The rest of the book wasn't as tiring and tedious to me as a couple of Michael's chapters that had caused me to contemplate quitting. I had very mixed feelings about different sections of this book, that's for sure.


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