Imagine Me Gone


By Adam Haslett

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From a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, a ferociously intimate story of a family facing the ultimate question: how far will we go to save the people we love the most?

When Margaret’s fiancée, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him.

Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings — the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec — struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.

Told in alternating points of view by all five members of the family, this searing, gut-wrenching, and yet frequently hilarious novel brings alive with remarkable depth and poignancy the love of a mother for her children, the often inescapable devotion siblings feel toward one another, and the legacy of a father’s pain in the life of a family.

With his striking emotional precision and lively, inventive language, Adam Haslett has given us something rare: a novel with the power to change how we see the most important people in our lives.

“Haslett is one of the country’s most talented writers, equipped with a sixth sense for characterization”-Wall Street Journal

“Ambitious and stirring . . . With Imagine Me Gone , Haslett has reached another level.”-New York Times Book Review


Perhaps all music, even the newest, is not so much something discovered as something that re-emerges from where it lay buried in the memory, inaudible as a melody cut in a disc of flesh.

—Jean Genet


As I stepped out of the cabin, whiteness blinded me. The snow-covered yard glistened under the full sun. Icicles lining the roof of the shed dripped with meltwater. The fir trees, which had stood motionless and black against the gray sky, appeared alive again, green and moist in the fresh light. The footprints that Michael and I had made on the snowy path were dissolving, fading into ovals on the flagstone. Beneath our tracks in the driveway I could see gravel for the first time since we’d arrived. For weeks it had been frigid cold, but now had come this December thaw. I wasn’t certain what day it was, or what time, only that it had to be well after noon already.

Across the road stood the young lobsterman’s truck. Brown water seeped from the icy muck caked to its undercarriage. The red tarp covering his woodpile showed through a dome of melting snow. Up the slope, on the roof of his little white Cape, smoke rose from the chimney into the sheer blue.

I had to call my sister. I had to tell her what had happened. Hours had passed already, and still I had spoken to no one.

I began walking toward the village. Past the summer cottages closed up for the season, and the houses of the old retired couples with their porches glassed in and their lights on all day behind chintz curtains. In the deep cold this walk had been silent. But now I could hear the brook as it ran down through the woods, and under the road, emptying onto the rocky beach. I could hear the squawk of gulls, and even the trickle of water at the foot of the snowbanks, each rivulet wiping clean a streak of dried salt on the pavement.

I wanted to hear Seth’s voice. I wanted to hear him describe his day, or simply what he had eaten for breakfast, and tell me about the plans he was making for the two of us for when I returned. Then I could say to him that it would be all right now, that we could be together without interruption. But I hadn’t been able to bring myself to call him, either.

As soon as I spoke, it would be true.

I walked on, my coat unzipped, no hat or gloves, almost warm in the sun. My sister would be up by now out in San Francisco, riding the Muni to her office, or already there. My mother would be running errands or meeting a friend for lunch, or just out walking in this fine weather, imagining and worrying over Michael and me up here in Maine, wondering how long she should wait before calling us again.

At the intersection with the main road that led down into the village, I came to the old Baptist church. The high rectangles of stained glass along its nave were lit up red and orange, as if from within. Its white clapboard steeple was almost painful to look at against the brilliance of the sky. I wondered if the lobsterman and his wife came here. Or if he had come here as a child with his father, or his grandfather, or whether he went to church at all.

The sound that he’d made, chopping firewood in his driveway, it had grated on Michael. The slow rhythm of the splitting. It had brought Michael up off the couch, to the dining room window, to watch and mutter his curses.

Why couldn’t that sound do that again? I thought, in the waking dream of the moment, the unreal state of being still the only one who knew. Why couldn’t that sound summon Michael once more? Needle him, scrape at his ears. Why not? What kind of a person would I be if I didn’t at least try to call him back?

I turned around and started walking fast in the direction I had come, along the strip of road that dipped to the shoreline, up the little rise onto the higher ground, driven by the chance to begin the day over.

At first I thought my mind must be tricking me as I made the turn and saw the lobsterman—he was only a couple of years younger than I was—coming down his front yard in his Carhartt jacket and ball cap. I started jogging toward him, thinking he would disappear if I didn’t make it to him in time. But instead he halted a few yards short of his driveway, and watched me approach his truck. When I reached it I rested a hand against the tailgate, steadying myself.

In the month we had been here, neither Michael nor I had spoken a word to him.

We stood there a moment, facing each other. His arms hung straight down at his sides. His bearded face was strangely still.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a slow, wary tone that made of the question a species of threat.

I gestured with my head, toward the cabin. “I’ve been staying over there.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve seen you two.”

Come nearer, I wanted to say. I needed him close enough to hit. Or to fall into his arms.

“Something’s happened,” I said, aloud, for the first time. “It’s my brother.”

Closer. Please come closer. But he didn’t, he stood his ground, squinting, uncertain of himself and of me.


Hello. You’ve reached the voice mail of Dr. Walter Benjamin. I am currently out of the office. If you are one of my patients, please leave your name, a very brief message, and your telephone number, even if you think I already have it, as it may not be handy. I will return your call as soon as possible. Please note that I am out of the office on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and that any messages left on those days will be returned on the following Monday.


If this is an emergency, and you have gone on holiday by accident with your younger brother, in the hope that you might finally tear your eyes away from the scenes you have been fixedly contemplating your entire life, but find instead that a storm blowing in from paradise has become caught in your wings, so that all you can see is the wreckage of the past piling up before you, one single catastrophe, with no future, then please hang up, and contact my answering service.


Finally, if this is about a refill for a medication you require in order to survive, and you have some concern that your request may not reach me in time, and it seems likely that the words you are about to speak into this machine will be your last, then please know that you tried very hard indeed, and that you loved your family as deeply as you could.



We’re bound to forget something in the rush. I could pack only so much yesterday with taking Alec to the doctor to get his stitches out, Kelsey to the vet, and stocking up for the trip. But I did all I could, and at least John helped Alec and Celia pick out their books when he got home from work last night. Come hell or high water, we leave at eight thirty sharp. John drums it into the children. He turns it, like everything he does with them, into a game: You’ll be left behind if you’re a minute late and we won’t come back for you! When he parades through the house and calls out, Time to go, they’ll grab what’s at hand, assuming I’ve got the rest, and race for the car to compete over the backseat and the bucket seats, Michael and Celia opening another front in their roving war, Alec running behind toward another defeat at their hands. If he’s not included he’ll whine to quash their fun. Departures speed all their wants and fears, this one most of all: summer vacation, two weeks up on the water in Maine, in a borrowed house.

The babysitter has agreed again to feed the rabbits, the guinea pig, the bird, and even Michael’s snake, which requires her to dangle defrosted mice on the end of a stick. Of the menagerie, only Kelsey comes with us, most unruly of all, and object of the children’s keenest ridicule and devotion. Their untrained mutt of a mascot, who plows through window screens and shits on beds, though I still love her through their eyes.

For the long drive I make them surprise boxes, which I hold back until we’re halfway there, giving them something to look forward to and buying me a half hour’s peace once they’re doled out. The shoe boxes are full of license-plate games, peanuts, and oranges, a little Lego set for Alec, a book for Celia, and a music magazine for Michael. I have to finish putting them together now before they come downstairs or the effect will be lost, and I manage it just a minute before Alec appears in the kitchen asking, What’s for breakfast?

He’s followed by Michael, who walks straight up to his little brother, squeezes his upper arm until Alec cries out for him to stop, and says, “Mom’s in a preparatory mode which means Dad will cook and he only cooks Viennese eggs so that’s what’s for breakfast, you little thing.”

Michael and Celia both treat Alec as akin to Kelsey on the evolutionary scale, a reliable entertainment when properly goaded.

“That hurt,” Alec says, clutching his arm, but Michael’s not listening. He’s at the radio changing the station, flying over news, violins, shouted ads, Dolly Parton, and rock ballads, up the dial and back down again three or four times before he settles on a disco song, his favorite music of late.

“Please,” I say, “not now.”

“We can’t listen to any more baroque music. It enervates the mind. We need a beat.”

Where does a twelve-year-old get “enervates the mind”? From some novel he’s reading, no doubt. Beguiled by the sound of the phrase, he’ll repeat it for a week before latching onto the next one. He tries them out at the dinner table, usually on Alec, who at seven has no recourse that doesn’t confirm his siblings’ conviction that he’s stupid. “I believe you have delighted us long enough,” Michael said the other night, as Alec tried explaining how the teams worked on field day at school. Michael waited a diplomatic second or two before glancing surreptitiously at John and me to see how we’d reacted to his bon mot. Alec kept on about sack racing, until Michael once more pinched his arm.

“Not now,” I say, so he turns the dial back to whatever it is Robert J. Lurtsema is playing this morning on WGBH, and opens the screen door to let a wheedling Kelsey into the yard, following her out.

The sun’s been up more than two hours already—5:17 this morning, a minute later than yesterday—and is already well above the tops of the pines. Finches and sparrows flutter in the square of the birdbath, which sits atilt in my bed of marigolds. It’s a rather ugly object made of coarse concrete, and it looks forlorn in winter holding askew its dome of snow, but this morning with the splashing birds making its water glisten it’s a perfectly pleasant part of the mild shabbiness of the place—the barn with the collapsed rear roof that we have to constantly remind the children they’re not allowed to play under, and the gently crumbling brick patio, where I’ve got the morning glories blooming up the drainpipe, their petals crinkled like linen around their dusty yellow centers.

Kelsey has lit off down the path into the woods—that’ll be another fifteen minutes—but Michael’s declined to follow, instead stopping at the station wagon, where he’s stepped onto the bumper, and, holding the roof rack, is bouncing the car up and down on its rear wheels, as if it were a beast he could coax into forward motion.

John appears spiffed up in one of his jaunty summer outfits, Bermuda trousers, a canvas belt, a blue Izod polo, ready to captain our seafaring adventures. It’s nothing to the children that the house on the mainland and the house on the island and the boat we use to go back and forth are all loaned to us by a partner of John’s, that we couldn’t possibly afford this on our own, not two weeks of it, not a hundred-acre island to ourselves, and mostly it’s nothing to me—a happy gift that we happened to have been given three years running now, a place I’ve come to love. It’s just that not knowing if we’ll have it, or when we’ll have it until what seems like the last minute reminds me how provisional, how improvised our lives here are.

This isn’t the town we were meant to live in, or even the country, and it’s not the place we want to put the children through school. We lived in London and had Michael and Celia there for a reason, because that was John’s home. And it’s where he wants to return. Living here as long as we have is a kind of accident, really. He was sent to Boston on a consulting assignment for what we thought would be eight months, so we rented this house down in Samoset up the street from my mother, in this town we used to come to in the summers, where she moved full-time after my father died, a house it turned out some carpenter ancestor of mine built back when the whole family used to live around here.

Then John’s firm in London went out of business. And here we were. Lots of space for the children to play in. Their grandmother three minutes away, which has its pluses. So John looked for a temporary job, while our furniture stayed in storage back in England. He found one, then another, and then one potentially more permanent in this new business of venture capital, and the life we’d assumed we’d have—urban, with his friends, and the parties—stayed on hold one year after the next, for eight years now, the presumption we’ll return always still with us, up ahead in the distance. Which can leave me feeling in limbo. Though most often, like this morning, when the children are happy and the weather is fine, I don’t want to think too much about it.

Behind the wheel, John wears his tortoiseshell sunglasses, completing his summer look. He’s a showman when he’s on, capable of great largesse. In his sunny moods the winningness flows like water from the tap. He prefers Ellington to Coltrane, Sinatra to Simon and Garfunkel; likes to dance in the living room after the kids have gone to sleep, and find me across the bed in the morning; and he knows he’ll never stop working or earning, because his ideas for new ventures are that good and there are that many of them, such an easy multiplication to perform. And lately I must say he’s been fine, not overbrimming, but more than half full. Steady at work, and he comes home in time for dinner and to see the children, and plays with them on Saturdays and Sundays in the yard, mowing paths in the field for them to ride their bikes on, and clearing paths in the woods, and really it’s fine, however different it may be from the gin-drinks parties at the house on Slaidburn Street, off the King’s Road, and his glittering eyes and well-dressed friends, and so much of that time in London before our wedding.

I knew him naively, then. He wasn’t raised to be understood in the way people think of relationships now. He grew up in the old world of character as manners and form, emotion having nothing to do with it, marriage being one of the forms. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t love me. He’s just British about it. I think when he met me he realized he might be able to escape some of that, in private at least. In his eyes, I had that American openness he admires, though in fact by coming to London I was escaping my own old world of coming-out balls and the matrons of Smith College. We were meeting in the middle, I suppose.

“At least we all speak the King’s English.” That’s what his mother said to no one in particular at the dinner table the first time I visited his parents, outside Southampton. She was apparently less appalled at my accent than she’d expected to be. His father had installed a putting green by the side of the house, where he spent most of his afternoons before coming in for a supper he preferred eating in silence. At breakfast, there was the tea cozy, and cold toast in a rack, and at Sunday lunch mint jelly with the dry lamb, and in the evening being asked if I planned on taking a bath. John was and is his mother’s favorite, the oldest, who went to Oxford and into business and wears good suits and understands there are proper and improper ways of going about things, all of which he plays up when he’s around her, keen to reflect back her image of him.

I had a job at a library, out in the suburbs. I’d get up early to catch a train to Walton-on-Thames and then the bus along the high street to the red-brick Victorian fortress, where I’d stamp and shelve books all day, and then reverse the journey, riding back into the city on half-empty trains running against the commute.

A few months ago I read Mailer’s Armies of the Night and it reminded me of what I had missed being away from America for most of the sixties, reading about the violence from overseas and hearing about it from my friends, always at a remove. There was one passage that stuck with me. After the posturing speeches followed by the melee at the Pentagon, once they’ve all been arrested and are being driven out to Virginia in buses in the dark, everyone quiet, Mailer writes it’s in motion that Americans remember. Maybe he could have dropped “Americans” and just said “people.” Either way, it struck me as true. If you think of memory not just as looking back but as being aware of time and how it passes and what the passage of it feels like, then there is something about being in motion that does cause it. Through some sleight of mind, physical forward motion makes time seem visible. Which causes me to think that maybe the unnatural speed of cars and jets actually creates nostalgia. Because the simplest way to block out the strangeness of time passing before your eyes is to fix it in place, to edit it down to monuments or potted plants.

Like, I suppose, my rides on those nearly empty trains back from Surrey in the early evenings, already dark in winter, passengers across the car visible in reflection on the glass—a fixed memory I carry now as a stand-in for the more particular instances of wanting badly to see John, to be done with the courtship so we could live together and see each other every night as a matter of course.

Or like all of this coming to me now in the car after I’ve handed out the surprise boxes and earned a lull in the children’s impatience for a while, with the windows down and the salt air rushing in on us. Remembering being at a packed, loud party at the flat with John’s roommates, everyone in ties and dresses, on the evening that the fire engines appeared at the building, and we all had to scurry down the four flights of stairs with our sloshing glasses, John running back up to grab his jacket in case the press appeared to cover the impending blaze—a jest to prevent the good cheer from dissipating on the sidewalk, which worked, keeping the laughter going until we got the all-clear and clambered back up to keep drinking.

It was almost grave the way he kissed me in the beginning. His nerves showed like they never did with friends; with them, words were the only currency that mattered. The contrast seduced me as much as anything. The American boys I’d dated in college and immediately afterward brought their offhand confidence into the bedroom, where it struck the same slightly false note that it did in company. John might have wanted to be that smooth, but with me he couldn’t manage it. Which I’ve always decided to take as a compliment. And then, as if he’d betrayed himself in the dark, he’d up the gallantry the next day, appearing at my door with a picnic basket and a borrowed car and driving us into the countryside, where even if no one was around he still wouldn’t try to touch me, as if it proved something about his character. I fell in love watching him do that. I knew the starkness of the difference between his savoir-faire and his wordless, heavy-breathing grasp in private owed something to his never knowing exactly where he stood with me, because he couldn’t interpret me as easily as he could an Englishwoman. By the same token, I couldn’t help wondering if my being an outsider in his world was what drew him most. Which could make me skeptical of him, parsing his words and deeds for signs that he’d noticed or appreciated something about me other than my foreignness.

It was all part of what kept up a sense of mystery between us at the start. That tension of not knowing but wanting to know. You’d think that after seventeen years of being together and three children and moving together from London to a small town in Massachusetts, this kind of mystery would be dead and gone, the ephemera of early love washed out by practicality. And much of it is. He doesn’t charm me anymore. I see how he charms others, how far his accent alone goes in this country to distract and beguile, but it’s not the kind of effect that lasts in a marriage. And I am certainly no escape for him anymore, not in the simple sense of being a departure from familiarity. We fight. We disagree. He indulges the children to curry favor with them, suspending my bans on this or that, leaving me to stand alone as the enforcer. I resent not knowing when or if he’ll decide the time has come for us to go back to Britain, and I resent that it depends on his work. Not all the time, and not that I can fault him for it entirely, but I’m not quiet about it when it gets to me. Like when I’m rummaging through old furniture in my mother’s garage for dressers or side tables because the ones we bought together after our wedding are sitting in storage an ocean away and he doesn’t want to ship it all here since maybe we’ll be returning soon.

And yet there remains mystery between us. What I want to say is that we still don’t know each other, that we’re still discovering each other, and of course because it’s no longer the beginning it isn’t always, or even mostly, a romantic proposition—the not knowing, the wanting to know—but there is the wanting. Certainly there are times when I think maybe it’s one-sided, that he knows just about all of me that he cares to, and that I’m the one who’s still deciphering, which can be its own source of resentment.

Whatever it is, it’s not about nationalities anymore, or his family or mine. It’s what all that stood in for at the beginning without my realizing it. At least until his episode shortly before our wedding.

That autumn of ’63 after our engagement I could tell something was getting to him at work because whenever we met up he’d be more distracted than usual and have less to say. He was the fastest-talking person I’d ever met, that is before Michael started talking, and in the right mood I could just sit back and listen to him go on about the complacency of Harold Macmillan or the latest news in the Profumo affair, he and his friends interrupting and talking over one another, dashing and clever and well oiled with drink. I’d think of my friends who’d gotten married, junior or senior year, to men just like the ones they’d grown up with, headed now to Wall Street or law school, some of them already with three- and four-year-olds, and I’d think, Thank God! I’m not a doll in the house of my mother’s imaginings. I got out. And far.

But during that October John’s clock began to run more slowly. It wasn’t dramatic at first. He didn’t talk much about his work but I imagined it was some pressure there that was tiring him out, making him less inclined to spend evenings with friends. He just appeared let down, that was all. Harold Macmillan resigning as prime minister was the sort of thing he would usually have been reading and talking about furiously but he showed barely any interest. It was the evening Kennedy was shot—evening in Britain—that I thought to myself something must be the matter with him because when I appeared at his flat in tears he hugged me and sat me down on the couch and tried to calm me, yet it didn’t seem to have reached him at all. I didn’t expect him to cry—it wasn’t his president—but it was as if I’d told him a distant uncle of mine had expired, obliging him to pat me on the shoulder. It was unnatural.

Three weeks later I sailed back to New York for Christmas. I stayed just under a month. We wrote several times a week. Daily bits and pieces but lots of fond things, too. There were some particularly ardent ones from him—as strong about how he loved me as he’d ever said or written before.

I didn’t understand what his flatmate was saying when I called the day I got back to London and he told me that John had been admitted to the hospital.

“Has he had an accident?” I said.

“No,” he said. “But perhaps you should call his parents.”

I phoned right away. His mother handed the receiver to her husband with barely a word. “Yes,” he said. “We were rather hoping all this business was done with. His mother finds it most unpleasant.”

I had nothing to prepare me. John sat in what looked like an enormous waiting room with clusters of chairs and coffee tables, all those waiting being men, most of them reading newspapers or playing cards or just gazing through the filmy windows. His face was so drained of spirit I barely recognized him. If he hadn’t moved his eyes I would have thought he was dead.

The room got only northern light and the shades were half pulled. It just made no sense to stay in that tepid, dingy atmosphere so I said, “Why don’t we go for a walk?” I had to leave there to plant my feet back in reality, and to bring him with me.


  • Praise for Imagine Me Gone:

    "Haslett is one of the country's most talented writers, equipped with a sixth sense for characterization and a limber, unpretentious style. Perhaps his rarest gift is the apprehension of the invisible connections that tie people together...
    The chapters seamlessly negotiate the passage of time...[Oldest son] Michael comes to dominate the narrative, and Haslett perfectly captures the qualities that make him both seductive and infuriating. He is a motormouth with a fitful imagination and a wicked sense of humor; his nervous energy and 'ceaseless brain' are the battery power on which the whole family runs...Haslett is alert to the reality of others, and the insinuating power of this novel comes from its framing of mental illness as a family affair. Michael's siblings are both wholly convincing characters, shaped by the abiding question of how much, or how little, they are meant to act as their brother's keepers...Most affecting of all is Margaret, who is treated with impatience by her children but possesses a capacious understanding...'What do you fear when you fear everything?' Michael wonders. 'Time passing and not passing. Death and life....This being the condition itself: the relentless need to escape a moment that never ends.' That condition, Haslett's superb novel shows, is an irreducible part of the fabric of Michael's family, as true and defining as the love that binds them."
    Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
  • "Ambitious and stirring . . . With Imagine Me Gone, Haslett has reached another level, affording readers a full and luminous depiction of a mind under siege . . . By putting the readers in the same position as [oldest son] Michael's family members, Haslett has pulled off something of a brilliant trick: We feel precisely what they feel-the frustration, the protectiveness, the hope and fear and, yes, the obligation. If Michael is on the page, if his thoughts or actions are laid bare, there's a grueling sense of dread. If he's out of sight, if his thinking and whereabouts are unknown, the dread becomes all but unbearable . . . This is a book refreshingly replete with surprise. It sneaks up on you with dark and winning humor, poignant tenderness, and sentences so astute that they lift the spirit even when they're awfully, awfully sad . . . But make no mistake, the novel's most rewarding surprise is its heart. Again and again, the characters subtly assert that despite the expense of empathy and the predictable disappointment of love, our tendency to care for one another is warranted . . . Even when it's difficult or terrifying or impossible, especially when it's impossible, the impulse to calm those we hold dear is an absolute privilege."
    Bret Anthony Johnston, New York Times Book Review
  • "Imagine Me Gone brilliantly captures the excruciating burden of love and the role it plays in both our survival and our destruction. Haslett suspends a sense of dread over you like an anvil from page one, cutting the rope that holds it in the brutal last act. You'd be a fool to look away."
    Julia Black, Esquire
  • "A richly drawn, Franzenesque canvas . . . Haslett's prose shimmers as he peers unflinchingly at the risks and rewards of fighting for love."O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "A devastating family drama . . . Haslett's considerable skills as a writer turn domestic conflicts into something more profound . . . In one beautifully rendered scene after another, Haslett shows the family dealing with John's illness and Michael's descent while also managing their own conflicts . . . Imagine Me Gone is a handsome work . . . the sort of writing that is guaranteed to turn heads."Michael Magras, Miami Herald
  • "Searing . . . Devastating and gorgeously written . . . Pure genius . . . Haslett hits the nail on the head when it comes to describing just how anguishing and time-consuming psychiatric disorders can be, not only for the afflicted but also for the flailing loved ones trying their damnedest-and failing-to find a suitable fix . . . Haslett writes with his eyes wide open about the pitfalls of piled-on medication, the panicked late-night phone calls, the cycles of fear, frustration, and guarded hope. And herein lies the kicker: Because these chapters are told from the alternating perspective of each of the five family members, we believe every word in them and bear witness to just how complex and multi-angled the issue of mental illness can be . . . By signing on with Haslett and his characters we are given the chance to look beyond our minutiae and daily distractions in order to notice the passage of time as experienced by others. We are reminded of what it is like to be truly, if fleetingly, alive."Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Powerful . . . Imagine Me Gone is a study of destructive family dynamics akin to Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children or Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast. Family here is a trap as filled with love and concern as it is with exasperation and dread. Moving with penetrating wit between the points of view of a father, mother, daughter, and two sons, the novel traces how the vein of mental illness running through this family affects every member . . . Haslett, as he turns the narrative over to first one and then the other, is uncanny in nailing how their differences in personality and temperament guide their respective actions . . . His sharp take on how minor family foibles become conflated with major family dysfunction introduces some unexpected comedy into the proceedings . . . Haslett expertly evokes family behavioral patterns that simply repeat themselves, taxing everyone's patience, before precipitating into panic-inducing crises . . . With its fugue of voices, each contributing a vital slant to the action, Imagine Me Gone offers rigorous formal pleasures. Yet while flirting with narrative artifice, Haslett stays keenly aware that in this family there is no explanation 'sufficient to account for the events . . . Lives weren't works of art.' In acknowledging that, Imagine Me Gone respects the mystery of how things happen the way they happen, while brilliantly conjuring the tide-like pull with which dreaded possibilities become harsh inevitability."Michael Upchurch, Boston Globe
  • "Drawing vivid scenes and compelling characters from a tragic realism, Haslett intimately connects the reader to his characters' inner lives . . . A rare, complex story [with] exceptional storytelling and poignant insights [and] uplifting moments of humor, kindness, and love."
    Don Oldenburg, USA Today
  • "An extraordinary blend of precision, beauty, and tenderness . . . Haslett's prose rises to the challenge, lushly capturing the dense fog of depression that blankets John [the father] and occasionally lifts just enough to reveal the 'beast' moving in on him. But Haslett really shows his chops channeling [oldest son] Michael's amped-up voice . . . I got caught up in the beauty of Haslett's sentences and the lives of these oh-so-human people bound by shared duress and cycles of hope. Haslett's signature achievement in Imagine Me Gone is to temper the harrowing with the humorous while keeping a steady bead on the pathos. You want sympathetic characters? You want a narrative that showcases love as a many-splendored thing capacious enough to encompass stalwart, long-suffering spouses, loyal siblings, suffocatingly obsessive crushes, and casual, noncommittal relationships (both gay and straight) that morph as if by magic into soul-sustenance? You want writing that thrums with anguish and compassion? It's all here."—Heller McAlpin, NPR
  • "Smart and polyphonic...Haslett is that rare writer whose art can console without ceasing to be art."
    Boris Kachka, New York
  • "Adam Haslett's brilliant second novel captures two troubled minds with rare empathy, realism, and insight . . . [Oldest son] Michael is an utterly enchanting character . . . His every riff on music, feminism, and racism is seductive to the reader . . . It's a memorable, funny, and ultimately heartbreaking trip."—Mark Athitakis, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Haslett's second novel depicts, with candor and tenderness, a family's struggle with the effects of mental illness . . . Especially moving is Haslett's ability to anatomize the ways that a family contorts itself around one member's struggles."—The New Yorker
  • "Haslett's second novel is a potent tale of love and loss . . . By its heartbreaking conclusion, we've come to know intimately the joys and struggles of each member of this troubled family."

    Jane Ciabattari, BBC
  • "An ambitious book about music, anxiety, and a family determined to stick together after fracturing loss, Imagine Me Gone is proof that realistic stories have immense power."
    Maddie Crum, Huffington Post
  • "Expansive and precise."
    Megan O'Grady, Vogue
  • "Compelling . . . An achingly realistic portrait of a family sucked into-and dry by-a mentally-ill loved one's spiral into darkness."—Jenny Comita, W Magazine
  • "There are some books, and this is one, that grab you in the first paragraphs and don't let go, even when the last page has been read. Haslett is certainly not the first novelist to broach the topic of depression...But he's done so with such a fresh voice and playfulness of form...that the resulting novel begs a reevaluation of how we view and cope with tragedy."
    Keziah Weir, Elle
  • "Michael is an exceptional character...Haslett is especially adept at depicting the obsessive male psyche in the midst of a meltdown. But as this is also a series of deft vignettes of paternal, maternal and filial love, you too will likely be moved to recall your family with a new fondness and understanding.
    Edward Nawotka, Dallas Morning News
  • "A moving novel about how love and frustration shape the family dynamics of those affected by psychological instability . . . [Oldest son] Michael emerges endearingly precocious and quirky, recalling the children of J. D. Salinger's short stories . . . Imagine Me Gone is a character novel to be savored for its complex and empathetic portrait of family. Michael is a compelling character, witty and heartbreaking. This is not a novel driven by plot but by its relentless tides of sorrow and hope. Like his family, you'll soon see the inevitable end but only read faster as it hurtles closer."
    Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • "Stunning...Beautifully written and filled with astonishing insight...Imagine Me Gone fulfills its considerable ambitions. It touches greatness, and its seamless interleaving of the deeply personal with the widely collective is one reason...Haslett's particular talent is to fuse the high to the low, the sardonic to the profound, cultural critique to human feeling, to achieve a seamless, polished whole. Imagine Me Gone accomplishes a complex feat."
    Melissa H. Pierson, Barnes & Noble Review
  • "Although depression and anxiety are foes that many authors have explored in the pages of literature, it is hard to think of a novel that presents as nuanced and intimate a portrait of these diseases as Adam Haslett's Imagine Me Gone. Told from the perspectives of each of the five members of the family, the novel offers a shockingly raw portrayal of how mental illness afflicts individuals as well as families, sometimes tearing them apart but also binding them closer. But to simply label this as a book about depression-however expert its portrayal-minimizes what Haslett has achieved. At its core, this is a pensive examination of the very human struggle to connect and find peace-with others and with ourselves-and the nature of time and how it passes. Haslett's keen eye for and rigorous examination of the intricate messiness of family dynamics calls to mind Jonathan Franzen's twenty-first-century masterpiece on intergenerational dysfunction, The Corrections, although Haslett's approach, while at times playful, is ultimately more tender and sympathetic. Imagine Me Gone is immensely personal and private, yet feels universal and ultimately essential in its scope. In its pages, Haslett has laid bare the agonies and ecstasies of the human condition and the familial ties that bind. The end result is a book that you do not read so much as feel, deeply and intensely, in the very marrow of your bones."Stephenie Harrison, BookPage
  • "In this moving novel, Haslett explores how the profound depression of one person reverberates through an entire family. This beautiful, tragic, engrossing depiction of a web of emotional fault lines should win Haslett an even wider readership."—National Book Review
  • "We come to know the family at the center of Adam Haslett's powerful new novel as intimately as if they were our own . . . Imagine Me Gone is the story of this family across the decades-a family that is bonded and riven and bonded again by mental illness . . . [Oldest son] Michael is the center of the novel and certainly Haslett's most original character . . . For the reader, as for his family, Michael is strangely dear, utterly maddening, and ultimately heartbreaking."—Tom Beer, Newsday
  • "Moving and courageous."
    Danielle Groen, National Post
  • "With skill and subtlety... Imagine Me Gone sweeps the reader into its characters' worlds and makes us reflect on our own lives. It might be the best American novel about a middle-class family since Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections."—Max Lui, The Independent UK
  • "Haslett deftly explores the many different shapes and forms that depression can...his strength lies in encapsulating the darkness that enshrouds the main characters' brains by making tangible the hopelessness that depression often induces in its victims...Imagine Me Gone paints a brand new, innovative picture of depression that demands to be felt."
    Mila Gauvin II, The Harvard Crimson
  • "A book everyone can identify with . . . Adam Haslett has described a family that is true, funny, and tragic. Imagine Me Gone is beautifully conceived and composed."—Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun
  • "Imagine Me Gone is a family saga reminiscent at times of Anne Enright's The Green Road. It is raw, tender and hilarious. In the writing of Michael, the Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted Haslett lets rip to dazzling effect: a family therapy session, related by Michael in the form of an Army incident report, is a showstopper. But the voices of the novel's other narrators are equally involving, and the psychological insight piercing. True, the emotional demands are considerable. But the investment more than pays off."—Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail UK
  • "(A) skilfully written and harrowing tale. Any reader dealing with mental illness in the family will immediately recognise the place where love and obligation meet constant anxiety and intermittent despair. This novel plants its flag somewhere in the middle ground between Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night."
    Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
  • "Haslett has a great gift for capturing the strikingly different inner worlds of his characters and rendering them in beautiful prose. As in Faulkner, each of the voices emerges from somewhere between speech, thought and writing, but here the characters are articulate enough that we can believe that the words are theirs. There is a lot about honour and care here: about what it means to honour and care for both ourselves and those we love. Haslett's prose, so finely adapted for each of the characters, seems to do just this, honouring the living and the dead and rendering life precious enough that Alec, falling in love, can find that the gift of the present moment 'set me afloat, leaving me light-headed and close to joy'."—Lara Feigel, The Guardian UK
  • "Haslett has already produced a quiveringly sensitive body of work that stands as a moving testament to the persistence of love in the face of the adversities occasioned by diseases of the brain -- a love personified in Imagine Me Gone by Margaret, who learns of John's condition during their engagement but marries him anyway, and by Alec, who is all too aware of Michael's increasingly precarious state of mind but longs to save him... With his crystalline sentences and uncanny knack for inhabiting the minds of his characters, channeling their distinct voices with the otherworldly insight of a spiritual medium, Haslett has become a master."
    Kevin Nance, Poets & Writers
  • "The characters are richly developed and rendered with an incredible emotion that makes this an intense and devastating story of pain, anguish, and ultimately healing."—Jean Moore, Ventura County Star
  • "Haslett has created a distinctive and winning voice and character [in Michael] that transforms what might have otherwise been just-another-accomplished-literary-novel about an American family's tragicomic goings on into something far more affecting and beguiling. ... The result is a tour-de-force of manic brilliance, both zealously funny and painfully sad."Randy Boyagoda, Financial Times UK
  • "The quality of Haslett's character portrayals, his language, and his scene construction in Imagine Me Gone are apparent enough, but the way you know this book is going to stick around for a while is that not one word is wasted."
    Rich Smith, The Stranger
  • "Breathtaking....Imagine Me Gone glides over unfathomable depths of feeling. Haslett does the tough work of affirming love, while acknowledging that some wounds run too deep for love alone to heal."
    Charles McRory, Daily Mississippian
  • "In Imagine Me Gone, Haslett describes the state of [the father] John's troubled mind with compassion and artistry. But even more moving is his characterization of Michael, the eccentric eldest child who has inherited John's disease . . . As a meditation on mental illness and its reverberations, the novel is generous and honest."—Rachel Giese, Chatelaine
  • "Imagine Me Gone is beautiful, it's terrifying, it's intimate and epic, and it's devastating -- one of the great books about loss and mourning and the ineluctable laws that govern the political economy of families. I cannot describe the force or the depth of its accomplishment except to say that this magnificent work of art has overwhelmed me and broken my heart."Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winner for Angels in America
  • "Imagine Me Gone is literature of the highest order. It manages to be both dreadfully sad and hilariously funny all at once. It is luminous with love."—Peter Carey, Man Booker Prize winner for True History of the Kelly Gang
  • "The family Adam Haslett has created in Imagine Me Gone feels as true and as complex as our own actual families are, and lays nearly as deep a claim upon our love and loyalty. The eldest son, Michael, is simply one of the finest characters I've ever come across in fiction. This beautiful, tragic novel will haunt you for the rest of your life and you will be all the more human for it."—Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize winner for Tinkers
  • "This novel about family, love, forgotten music, and a despair that proves unbearable has one of the most harrowing and sustained descriptions of a mind in obsessive turmoil and disrepair that I've ever read. Haslett is a marvelously lucid and intelligent writer." Joy Williams, Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Quick and the Dead
  • "Imagine Me Gone is a beautiful, elegant, harrowing story of the dissonant music of family, a poignant book that makes you eager, once more, for the complications of the world."—Colum McCann, National Book Award winner for Let the Great World Spin
  • "A captivating portrait of the ways depression and anxiety mark both the afflicted and everyone who loves them. Haslett has an uncanny talent for shifting between the voices and sensibilities of his characters. It is with Michael that his gifts are most in evidence. These anarchic chapters are by turns mordantly funny and heartbreaking. The forces of love and loyalty that bind the siblings together rescue Imagine Me Gone from all consuming sadness. Haslett understands the power of sentiment to move without ever becoming maudlin or arch, leading us down a dark path at the end of which a light of hope still burns."—Patrick Flanery, The Spectator UK
  • "Suffice it to say that Imagine Me Gone is a complex, nuanced portrait of a family dealing complex, nuanced issues. Haslett's story touches on numerous topics-growing up, heredity, familial interaction, masculinity, and perhaps above all mental illness. Haslett's portrayal of the family's eldest son is a thing of beauty. Central is the question of how we help those we love and how our "help" is shaped by our own interests and the limits of our own understanding. His story illuminates. It will stick with you."Frank Valish, Under the Radar
  • "Imagine Me Gone has a moral compass installed so deeply that it never has to announce itself or pause to moralize . . . It's if its author's sensibility has entered Jonathan Franzen's airspace with some daredevil if psychically grounded skywriting . . . Haslett's language has been scoured of argot, and treats the platitudes of therapy like death threats. All five family members tell this story, not in turn but compellingly in sequence, in their own words, words so pitch-perfectly their own that they scarcely need physical description to walk right off the page . . . Much of Haslett's deep seriousness is wrapped in the language of high comedy, black as it is . . . Haslett's infinitely subtle, insinuating novel is a work of art."Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Reporter
  • "An aching, psychologically astute novel . . . Michael is the animating spirit of the book and its central conundrum, a figure at once half-deranged and brilliant, stymied and restless, utterly self-absorbed and yet pseudo-empathetic to the point of pathology . . . Imagine Me Gone confronts the moment when the motion finally stops, when the mind's wheels spin and squeal against the skull until a person breaks apart, his family looking on helplessly, haunting him and haunted by him."—Jessica Winter, BookForum
  • "For all its elegiac tone, one of the most striking features of Imagine Me Gone is the wicked humor that surfaces in portions of Michael's narrative. Whether he's describing a nightmarish transatlantic crossing or recounting a group counseling session, he's skilled at skewering life's absurdities with sharp wit. For all the darkness that swirls around him, his winning personality makes him the novel's most appealing character."
    Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
  • "A triumphant and transcendent novel of family and the things we pass down through the generations . . . With his extraordinarily economical and observant prose, Haslett fully inhabits each of these characters. By the time the children are grown, you feel as if you've matured beside them-as familiar with their tics and emotional intricacies as your own kin. The book is tender, often beautiful, sometimes emotionally searing, and, at times, surprisingly funny. [Oldest son] Michael's chapters can be particularly hilarious . . . But they are more than comic relief. These endearing sections of Imagine Me Gone, beside chapters detailing his siblings' and parents' difficulties of dealing with his mental illness, mirror the inevitable ups and downs of love and family."—Andrew Travers, Aspen Times
  • "This touching chronicle of love and pain traces half a century in a family of five, from the parents' engagement in 1963 through a father's and son's psychological torments and a final crisis....Each chapter is told by one of the family's five voices, shifting the point of view on shared troubles, showing how they grow away from one another without losing touch....Haslett shapes these characters with such sympathy, detail, and skill that reading about them is akin to living among them....As vivid and moving as the novel is, it's not because Haslett strives to surprise but because he's so mindful and expressive of how much precious life there is in both normalcy and anguish."—Kirkus (Starred Review)
  • "Haslett narrates this soaring, heartrending novel from the revolving points of view of each family member, plumbing the psychologies of his characters. The result is a polyphonic page-turner that slowly reveals its orbit around Michael, the eldest son. Michael's troubled psyche, an inheritance from his father, proves to be the troubling linchpin at the center of this intensely personal work."
    Booklist (Starred Review)
  • "Haslett's latest is a sprawling, ambitious epic about a family bound not only by familial love, but by that sense of impending emergency that hovers around Michael, who has inherited his father John's abiding depression and anxiety....This is a book that tenderly and luminously deals with mental illness and with the life of the mind....In Michael, Haslett has created a most memorable character. This is a hypnotic and haunting novel." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
  • Praise for Union Atlantic:

    "The first great novel of the new century that takes the new century as its subject...It's big and ambitious, like novels used to be. It's about us, now. All of us."—Esquire
  • "Adam Haslett may be our F. Scott Fitzgerald...A profound, strikingly intelligent story."—Washington Post
  • "Exceedingly well written...a high-spirited, slyly astute exploration of our great bottoming out."—The Boston Globe
  • Praise for You Are Not a Stranger Here:

    "Haslett is an eloquent, precise miniaturist, and his characters' struggles with their own assumptions collectively provide a fascinating snapshot of life during the era of Prozac, when new ways of thinking about emotion have forced us to adjust our notion of identity and even, perhaps, of grace."—New Yorker
  • "Spectacular. . . . You should buy this book, you should read it, and you should admire it. . . . [It] is the herald of a phenomenal career."—The New York Times Book Review
  • "Haslett possesses a rich assortment of literary gifts: an instinctive empathy for his characters and an ability to map their inner lives in startling detail; a knack for graceful, evocative prose; and a determination to trace the hidden arithmetic of relationships."—New York Times
  • "Extraordinary. . . . Frighteningly tender. . . . Displays an order as natural as a tree branch in winter-lithe and achingly austere."—The Boston Globe
  • "The greatest of this novel's many strengths is Haslett's uncanny gift for inhabiting the consciousness of five enormously complex characters....Imagine Me Gone is not a traditionally plotted novel but a psychological character study, written with the kind of patient intricacy one associates with 19th-century realists like the Russian masters or George Eliot - or, in contemporary American literature, Jonathan Franzen (Haslett's former teacher).....Adam Haslett is a writer of prodigious gifts, the greatest among them a deep compassion for his most flawed characters, and the courage to go with them into the abyss and bring their stories back to us with uncommon grace and boundless empathy."—Ed Tarkington, Nashville Scene
  • "Haslett proves frightengly capable in capturing the sense of duty and purpose in spreading the gospel of a beloved band that's typical of the musically obsessed, and through the painful course of the novel, cuts a sharp figure of their hearts."—Dylan Owens, The Denver Post
  • "In his devastating and gorgeously written novel, Haslett hits the nail on the head when it comes to describing how anguishing psychiatric disorders can be."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "[Imagine Me Gone] shifts confidently between heartbreak and cathartic laughter...with a calm, forensic mastery."—Wall Street Journal "20 Books that Defined Our Year"
  • "At once the most beautifully written and yet most harrowing novel of the year so far....Imagine Me Gone is that rare thing in fiction: a book that breathes fresh life into the oldest story of all, that of the dysfunctional family, and invests it with a powerful sense of the love that binds such families together, for good and ill."
    Chicago Tribune
  • "This book is tragic, no question - but it's also poignant, tender and funny."

    Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times
  • "Succeeds on just about every level that a book can...It's a stunning novel, written with compassion, and it ends where it has to-Haslett is a fearless writer, refreshingly unafraid to confront darkness. That's not to say there's no light in Imagine Me Gone; it is, in the end, a book about love and about survival. And it's unquestionably one of the truest and most beautiful novels of 2016."
    Michael Schaub, LitHub

On Sale
May 3, 2016
Page Count
368 pages

Adam Haslett

About the Author

Adam Haslett is the author of the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, and the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize.

His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and he has received the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, the PEN/Malamud Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations. He lives in New York City.

Learn more about this author