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Imagine Me Gone
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2017 Book Discussions > Imagine Me Gone - Whole Book Discussion, Spoilers Allowed (June 2017)

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Doug This thread is for any comments that might contain spoilers.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2627 comments Mod
I have just finished the book. Overall I was impressed, particularly by the first and last 50 pages or so, in between there were slightly too many sections where the story lost focus and momentum. I will write more when I have had a bit more time to think.


Karen D | 8 comments Just finished this last night. I thought it was hard to get into, and around the middle I found myself more engaged, but I did struggle through some narrators more than others.

I agree with some of the other posters on Michael's chapters, a lot of them just felt tedious. But I did get a good sense about how much he was struggling with his anxiety, how all-encompassing it was.

I found Margaret hard to relate to as well, and thought it was interesting how different she was presented in her own chapters vs the other ones.

The ending really made me sad. Did Alec speak to any medical professionals before deciding to do his experiment in the cabin? What makes him qualified to decide how Michael should take his medication? That really bothers me, that he just unilaterally decides michael should come off the medication and he'll be fine, it doesnt work like that. But it got to me, so that says a lot for the book! It also makes me sad the general sense that things were easier without Michael, and what that means for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety - the fear that life is easier without them.

overall I gave the book 3 stars. I thought the ending was good, and I enjoyed most of it, but didn't walk away from it wanting to go out and recommend it to others.


message 4: by Ami (last edited Jun 15, 2017 09:53AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 339 comments Karen wrote: "Just finished this last night. I thought it was hard to get into, and around the middle I found myself more engaged, but I did struggle through some narrators more than others.

I agree with some ..."


It also makes me sad the general sense that things were easier without Michael, and what that means for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety - the fear that life is easier without them.
The point you make in the above statement is a similar thought I had, but couldn't quite put in words as you have. The author impressed upon me as well a simpler sense of life in Michael's absence. This was a difficult moment for me in the novel because of the personal guilt felt from understanding, what appears to be some level of relief while intermingled with grief and great sadness for the family. What this means for anybody suffering from depression and anxiety, of Michael's severity (my one caveat to your post) is that without proper proactive medical and familial support (which I don't think Michael had), this disease is a two-fold monster that wreaks havoc on both the afflicted and those who love and care for them.

Thank you so much for your post! ;)


Dianne | 204 comments I read this book but haven't posted so far. Having been very close to someone who suffered from depression, I found I had a visceral reaction to it, and after reading it was almost repulsed. I guess that's a strange reaction, but it's honest. I suppose that is the mark of a brilliant author though, that they can profoundly impact you in some way. This book was very accurate in portraying the genetic component of depression but also in highlighting that some cases are intractable - that the offerings in our culture with respect to medicine and therapy sometimes fail. The book also resonated with respect to its portrayal of the manner in which mental illness, like addictions, profoundly impact other family members and those that are close to the sufferer. I was glad to have read this book, but would not open it again.


message 6: by Dan (new)

Dan I read Imagine Me Gone almost a year ago, and some of it has remained vividly with me since then, and I’ve skimmed through it again recently.

“Imagine me gone” apparently appears only one place in the text, when John says in the Celia chapter in Section I: “All right, then, he said, imagine something happened and I can’t drive the boat and you can’t start the engine. What do you do now? Alec said, Why can’t you start the boat? And Dad said, Imagine me gone, imagine it’s just the two of you. What do you do?” As such, John declaring “imagine me gone” foreshadows both his own suicide as well as Michael’s.

Saying “imagine me gone” could serve two different emotional purposes.

On the one hand, “imagine me gone” might be said as an act of love, although an act of love that will bring immediate pain to the other person: imagine how you will feel when I’m gone, prepare for how you’ll feel when I’m gone, think about both how you’ll miss me but also how you’ll continue to live your life and find happiness.

On the other hand, “imagine me gone” might also be said as punishment or a vengeful act of emotional blackmail: you’ve disappointed me, you’ve misbehaved, you’re ungrateful; imagine just how sorry you’re going to feel when I’m gone.

Like the ineffability of understanding the full range of motivations behind a suicide, I don’t know whether the “imagine me gone” of Haslett’s title is intended as an expression of love for those left behind, or as a punishment for them. The ambiguity of the motivations for John’s and Michael’s suicides as well as the title contributed to why “Imagine Me Gone” has remained with me since my first reading.


Beverly | 141 comments A couple of aspects that kept me intrigued and reading this story:

- How "mental illness" does not affect just the individual - it affects the whole family and those who were close to the individual family members and just how much that just affects everyone - emotionally and physically
- How important it is that health care systems need to include mental health resources and it needs to be an integrated approach.
- This book made me feel what it was like to be each of the characters and the decisions that each of them needed to make (or in some cases not make/ignore).


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.


message 9: by Mike (last edited Jun 20, 2017 04:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike | 15 comments Some insightful viewpoints and dialogue in this thread and the other corresponding thread. I found this to be a powerful and moving novel; one that I have thought about in the week since I finished reading and no doubt will remember many years from now. Upon first finishing, I thought perhaps the author had tried to fit too much material into the storyline, including 5 narrators spanning 42+ years. After reflection, I think the author nailed the best way to exemplify how a mental disease affects both a person(s) afflicted and familial unit as a whole – and that is to tell the story over an extended period of time. And time necessarily involves life, death, relationship issues, coping mechanisms and everything else.

I do think that dates at the beginning of some of the chapters may have enhanced the storyline for me, as at times the story became a little disjointed. The character portrayal rang true throughout the book; in particular John’s description of the monster, murkiness and succumbing was haunting and as close as I have ever come to empathizing with the overwhelming weight wrought on some individuals by mental illness.


message 10: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
Mike wrote: "The character portrayal rang true throughout the book; in particular John’s description of the monster, murkiness and succumbing was haunting and as close as I have ever come to empathizing with the overwhelming weight wrought on some individuals by mental illness. "

This is, perhaps, why the first part of the book moved me so much--I thought John's portrayal was so visceral you almost felt as a reader you were also in its vice-like grip. On the flip side, I thought Michael kind of got lost in the rest of the book--we see how his illness impacts the rest of the family, and we get heaps of his humorous imagination, but it's like he's nowhere to be found. Somehow, by the time of his death, Haslett had actually written me out of caring about Michael.

I did very much enjoy Haslett's writing--it's wonderful to read... the style, the flow, the humor, dialogue, etc. And, like others, he did well to capture the impact of mental illness on others in the family. I just felt like the structure and over-reliance on humor undercut the story. The notion of someone with such severe mental illness being taken off all drugs by a family member struck me as ludicrous.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2318 comments Marc wrote: "I thought Michael kind of got lost in the rest of the book--we see how his illness impacts the rest of the family, and we get heaps of his humorous imagination, but it's like he's nowhere to be found. Somehow, by the time of his death, Haslett had actually written me out of caring about Michael."

I can see that. I ended up having sympathy for the family because of how Michael's mental illness was affecting them than for Michael. He was such a challenge. Sort of makes me feel guilty.


message 12: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
LindaJ^ wrote: " I ended up having sympathy for the family because of how Michael's mental illness was affecting them than for Michael. He was such a challenge. Sort of makes me feel guilty. "

I think it's natural to feel guilty, but I think that speaks to how well Haslett captured the impact on the other characters. Sickness (mental or physical) has a huge impact on those who choose to or are forced to play caregiver. Did you think the author went too far in focusing on the family? Or, put another way, were we as readers supposed to feel sympathetic toward Michael?

Did others feel sympathetic toward Michael?


message 13: by Ami (last edited Jun 28, 2017 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 339 comments Marc wrote: "Mike wrote: "The character portrayal rang true throughout the book; in particular John’s description of the monster, murkiness and succumbing was haunting and as close as I have ever come to empath..."

Marc wrote: "LindaJ^ wrote: " I ended up having sympathy for the family because of how Michael's mental illness was affecting them than for Michael. He was such a challenge. Sort of makes me feel guilty. "

I t..."


The author takes such different approaches depicting John, Michael, and their diseases, that it was difficult to not sympathize with one more than the other. I did sympathize with him because both medicine and support network failed him. In his section, I was mostly exhausted by Michael; especially, after reading John's section which left me slightly numb to Michael's plight. I had to read his section twice, but even then, I found John's section to be so much more fascinating wishing the whole book would have been about him alone.

On the flip side, I thought Michael kind of got lost in the rest of the book--we see how his illness impacts the rest of the family, and we get heaps of his humorous imagination, but it's like he's nowhere to be found.
Hmmm. Wouldn't this too be a testament to Haslett's writing...The depiction of a mentally diseased character lost in his own mind, lost in the world, lost in the narrative? I did think Michael's section felt disjointed compared to John's because Haslett approached writing the two characters from opposing directions. Haslett leads us into John's disease through his conceptualization of it; with Michael, we're given a few letters and left to our own devices to figure out what exactly it is Michael is enduring. We read one character from the internal out to the external, reading more of John's voice and his thoughts while he attempts to cope with the world around him. Whereas, Michael is read from the external in, reading about him through the world around him. The distinguishing factor between father and son is John seemed cognizant and aware of his debilitating mind because he seemed to hibernate within it; while Michael is in constant motion attempting to out run his storm. Both characters read differently, eliciting varied levels of sympathy, I think.


message 14: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
Ami, I also would have eagerly read a whole book about John!

You summed up better than I ever could the two approaches taken with John and Michael. It's not so much that I wanted them to be treated equally or the same, as it is I felt the outside approach for Michael may have been a little too heavy handed... "Lost" may have been a poor word choice on my part. It's like he's too oblique for me to get a sense of his character. Haslett has him put on the sad clown routine so he so frequently slips into "performance" mode.. It could also be me not transitioning very well--we have two characters who commit suicide and the first is told so briefly and emotionally (and seemed to resonate with me so strongly) that the move to a longer, more removed approach for the second felt like a letdown.

What did others make of Michael's obsession with slavery and how that played out throughout the narrative?


message 15: by Ami (last edited Jun 28, 2017 02:19PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ami | 339 comments Marc wrote: "Ami, I also would have eagerly read a whole book about John!

You summed up better than I ever could the two approaches taken with John and Michael. It's not so much that I wanted them to be treate..."


No, I didn't understand that way either, that you were implying..."wanting them to be treated equally." I think the severity of the diseases remains constant with both characters, it's just that I was better able to grasp the sickness for John.

I felt the outside approach for Michael may have been a little too heavy handed... "Lost" may have been a poor word choice on my part. It's like he's too oblique for me to get a sense of his character.
I get this...Totally. "Lost," perfunctory, abstract...What have you. Michael was all over the map, making his story difficult to absorb. I personally thought the cabin antics were unrealistic, but it wouldn't surprise me if it happens.

... the first is told so briefly and emotionally (and seemed to resonate with me so strongly) that the move to a longer, more removed approach for the second felt like a letdown.
Well, said. It was quite a leap jumping from John to Michael.

What did others make of Michael's obsession with slavery and how that played out throughout the narrative?
I found it to be a symptom of his psychological disorder, his knowledge of the subject matter and the tirade of his delivery, all feeding into his compulsive behavior. His taste in music, the women in his life, and the interest in white privilege/slavery, were all used as a vice by Michael to self-soothe and quiet the hurricane that is his mind.

I'm really not trying to be deep here, at all, but could his obsession with slavery also serve as a parallel to him being a slave to his disease...I don't know?


message 16: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
Ami wrote:
but could his obsession with slavery also serve as a parallel to him being a slave to his disease...I don't know?
Fear not being deep! :D
Seems like an astute observation to me. I'm sure depression feels like a form of enslavement to many people.

Margaret's friend Suzanne makes a comment about slavery being a source of identification for Michael:
"Some people take pills. Some people go to church. I drink. Everybody's got something. I've known Michael a long time now. He's a tense guy. Doesn't have a lot of outlets. He suffers. What I'm saying is, it's identification, all that reading he does. It's what we tell the school groups when they read novels--see yourself in some else's shoes. Right? There's nothing ambiguous about slavery. Plenty of misery there."


As a point of comparison, I keep trying to think of other recent reads I've read that have tackled depression. The only thing coming to mind is a nonfiction volume, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by Williams Styron. I recently reread it, but it was first recommended to me by a friend who described it as the closest writing he'd ever read that captured his experience of depression.


message 17: by Dan (new)

Dan I found Marc’s, LindaJ’s, and Ami’s comments about Michael helpful and thought-provoking: thank you. Yes, Michael seemed to be somehow outside: outside of his family, his colleagues, and an active life. I don’t have the book available to me now, but I recall being struck by how Michael seemed consistently left behind while John paid attention to Alec and Cilia. I wonder if the lack of sympathy or much affection that Michael elicited among some readers was intentional on Haslett’s part: the day-in, day-out of depression might be tiresome and boring for family members, regardless of their love for the depressed person. Perhaps Haslett had the authorial courage to portray a family exhausted by Michael’s depression and illness, and in fact, at some level, not only imagined him gone, but also in some ways preferred him gone?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2318 comments Dan wrote: "Perhaps Haslett had the authorial courage to portray a family exhausted by Michael’s depression and illness, and in fact, at some level, not only imagined him gone, but also in some ways preferred him gone? "

That was not my impression when I finished the book but this discussion has led me, unwillingly, to that conclusion. Not that they wanted him to kill himself, never that. But how much easier life had to be without him, as taking care of him and worrying about him seemed to take precedence over the rest of their lives. And the relief of having him gone brings guilt. So what's the answer to that? Was there a way they could have balanced their lives so that Michael did not predominate?


message 19: by Dan (new)

Dan LindaJ wrote: So what's the answer to that? Was there a way they could have balanced their lives so that Michael did not predominate?

Good questions, LindaJ. It's difficult for me to imagine beyond the bounds of the novel, especially when I don't have it available to me right now. My first and anodyne thought is the only way in which "they could have balanced their lives so that Michael did not predominate" would be to provide a safe, secure, and supportive environment for him, and perhaps this is the process that Alec was trying to initiate by bringing Michael up to the cabin.


message 20: 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 21: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
Thanks for moderating this discussion, Doug, and for putting this book and Haslett on our radar!

I've been mulling over Linda's question ("Was there a way they could have balanced their lives so that Michael did not predominate?") for a while now. Short of cutting him out of their life, I'm not sure they could have achieved anything resembling "balance". I say this as someone who has seen families have to protect themselves from the mental illness of one of their own by leaving that person homeless (living in shelters or on the street) at times, given the individual's refusal to take their meds and the threat, both emotional and financial, that they posed.

Certainly, no easy answers in this book.


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