When mental illness exists in a family, how deeply does it emanate? Can it ever be eradicated? Adam Haslett seeks to answer these questions in his devastating and witty new novel, Imagine Me Gone. In 1960s England, Margaret opts into a marriage with a charismatic man (John) whose past is checkered with depressive episodes, a decision that she later recalls “not in sadness, but in wonder at all that followed.” What followed was the birth of three children, whose accounts of coping with their father’s precarious existence are told in vivid first-person voices. While precocious Celia and ambitious Alec manage to rise above a fraught past, their father’s demons live on in their older brother Michael, fiercely intelligent but struggling to make it from one day to the next. Repeated attempts to save Michael from himself beg the question: why do we indefatigably try to fix the ones we love? Do we do it out of love or to protect ourselves?
In the book’s most delicious chapters are Michael’s sardonic self-analyses, which read like a curriculum vitae of his drug prescriptions and failed relationships. Music buffs will appreciate allusions to Michael’s favorite artists, ranging from Aphex Twin to Donna Summer to Neil Young, and locals will recognize many Greater Boston locations that serve as the backdrop for much of the story.