Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone received a lot of pre-pub acclaim, and I was quite excited about reading it. Perhaps it was the anticipation, but I was left slightly disappointed after reading it. For such an emotionally charged subject, there was a distance from the characters that undercut the effectiveness of this family drama. Still, this is a smallish quibble in what is mostly a masterful read.
Adam Haslett has produce a beautiful novel that tells the story of a family struggling with depression. When Margaret learns that her fiancee has been hospitalized due to his severe depression, she has to think hard as to whether she want to enter a life with him. It is 1960’s London, and depression was treated very differently than it is today. Several years later, Margaret and John are living in New England with three children, Michael, Celia and Alec. Touching in with this evolving family while the kids are young, then again as teens, and as adults, we see the arc of the life of a family struggling with an illness that effects them all.
Haslett brings this family so thoroughly to life, with moments of great sadness, and sudden hilarity. The caustic and embellished diatribes from oldest son Michael are so outlandish I found myself laughing out loud. The story is told from all point-of-view, so the hearts of each character are explored and laid bare. As the powerful novel nears its conclusion you will no doubt recognize some part of your own family despite the unique and sometimes tragic humanity of this fictional one.
I picked up Tim Murphy’s Christodora based on a recommendation by Scott Heim and was very pleasantly surprised. Focusing on an iconic building in the East Village, and spanning decades Murphy explores elements of the historic AIDS movement through the lens of a diverse group of artists whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Milly and Jared are a young couple coming of age in the 90’s, exploring their art, and struggling with their pasts and their future together. They adopt a 5-year old boy named Mateo, whose single Mom has died of complications from the AIDS virus. This is the central core of this sprawling story that includes Milly’s Mom, Ava, who worked for the Department of Health; their neighbor Hector, once a pivotal force in AIDS activism, now a drug addict who can’t let go of the past; Drew, Milly’s best friend, who overcame her addiction, fled New York City and found success as a writer, and Yssa, a young Latina woman who left a small but powerful impact on the world after contracting the AIDS virus and fighting to show that women get AIDS too.
The narrative jumps around through time, with interesting revelations emerging at surprising moments. It’s a compelling read, with flawed characters… some almost to the point of alienation, but Murphy manages to skirt that pitfall. His descriptions of heroin use are visceral and disturbing, and the complex relationships between characters are kaleidoscopic.
One of two epic books about New York City that I attempted to read, and unfortunately, the only successful one. I enjoyed what I read of Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire but something is just preventing me from completing it.