Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett ✎✎✎

boat

When the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists for Fiction were announced, I’d read only one of the books: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/commonwealth-by-ann-patchett-✎✎✎✎/, and loved it. Since then, I’m through Moonglow by Michael Chabon, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/moonglow-by-michael-chabon-✎✎✎/, and Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. I have Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Louis Erdrich’s LaRose in my near future.

On a idyllic day on the Maine water, Imagine Me Gone finds British venture capitalist John takes two of his three children boating. Celia is the second-oldest of the three; ultra-responsible and caring, if a bit of a bore. Alec, the youngest, is a whiny, clingy child wanting always to be held. Once they are on the water, John leans back into the boat, closes his eyes and pronounces to his children: “Imagine me gone, imagine it’s just the two of you. What do you do?” Celia wishes for her stronger older brother, or to be stronger, or at the very least for her father to quit play-acting and help them get to shore.

But John doesn’t help. Arguably, John has never helped his wife Margaret or their three children. His career, which brought them back to America from Margaret’s preferred life across the pond, has tanked. His relationship with Michael is ineffectual. He and Margaret fight loudly every night, frightening Alec into hiccups.

John has chronic, clinical depression. It is a condition that materially affects every member of his family, each of whom has a compelling authorial voice in Imagine Me Gone.

From Margaret:

“I’m the only one who doesn’t always want answers. John may never articulate his questions, but they are with him, a way of being. And the children want answers to everything all the time. What’s for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner? Where’s Kelsey? Where’s Dad? Why do we have to come in? Why do we have to go to bed? Some days the only words I speak to them are answers, and reasons I can’t answer, and instructions in place of the answers they want.”

John:

“This is the thing: He isn’t calling about his exam. I don’t want to know that, but I do. He’s calling to be reassured about something he can’t put into words yet. I glimpsed it in him when he was young, but told myself, No, don’t imagine that. Children have stages; he’ll change. Then the words started running out of him in a torrent, and I knew they were being chased out by a force he couldn’t see. What was I supposed to say to Margaret? That I see it in him?”

Celia:

“When Paul drank more than a diabetic should or we argued about petty domestic things, I would employ a kind of preemptive nostalgia, filing the episodes away under the heading A Couple’s Early Years. This general retrospective of the present leaped ahead to forgive our moments of anger and doubt, and the occasional day when the frustration and recriminations between us became grinding. It helped alleviate my sense of having been duped into believing Paul would be the person to deliver me from my family, rather than imitate it. And really it was okay, and most often better than that, being the object of his desire, sensing he would never leave me. That we were safe.”

Alec:

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.

donna-summerBut perhaps it is Michael the reader hears most clearly, learns most deeply even through the mental illness that drives and disturbs him. We know of the path of devastation his love creates, his musical knowledge and reverence for Donna Summer, his humor, his lack of self-control. Even as he is annoying us with an exhaustive list, we are amused by him and wish him well. He’s trying to beat the beast, much more, we think, than his father ever did.

“I remember my first dose of Klonopin the way I imagine the elect recall their high school summer romances, bathed in the golden light of a perfect carelessness, untouched and untouchable by time’s predations or the foulness of any present pain. As Cat Stevens wrote, The first cut is the deepest, though I’ve always preferred Norma Fraser’s cover to the original (the legendary Studio One, Kingston, Jamaica, 1967). Stevens sings it like a pop song, but Fraser knows the line is true, that she’ll never love like that again. Her voice soars over the reverb like a bird in final flight. The first cut is the deepest. I’ve since learned all about GABA receptors and molecular binding, benzos and the dangers of tolerance, but back then I knew only that I had received an invisible and highly effective surgery to the mind, administered by a pale yellow tablet scored down the middle and no larger than an aspirin. There is so much drivel about psychoactive meds, so much corruptions, bad faith over- and underprescription, vagueness, profiteering, ignorance, and hope, that it’s easy to forget they sometimes work, alleviating real suffering, at least for a time. This was such a time.”

haslett

Adam Haslett

 

Imagine Me Gone was, for me, a strange book. Each of the five narrators is to a certain extent unreliable and the family picture comes together only when viewing all of the pieces together, like a work of pointillism. The writing is lovely as you can see from the pieces I’ve included here and the reviewers agree it’s a compelling work of fiction dealing sensitively with mental illness.

A review I read before I read the novel said this is a book about how far a family will go to help a family member with mental illness; how much of one’s own life is a person willing to cede to maintain some normalcy for another who could have little on his or her own. I suppose that’s true, but I thought it was more about family and expectations and loss and ultimately love.

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MENU

I can’t cite a menu from the book because I listened to it on Audible. I do remember Alec and Michael eating doughnuts every morning and Margaret’s frustration at going out for an overly-expensive dinner when she would have rather cooked at home. Perhaps if you want to replicate a menu from the book, you can look for that scene, somewhere around 2/3 of the way through.

I would focus on the environment of Maine and serve a blueberry dessert; maybe pie or cobbler. I would also pull in Michael’s life in London and serve a shepherd’s pie or maybe roast beef with potatoes so that I could have leftovers for the week.

MUSIC

This is the easy part. Just play Donna Summer all night.

MOVIE CASTING

John        Jude Law/Ewan McGregor

Margaret       This is a total Grace Kelly role. I can see Gwyneth Paltrow maybe.

Michael          Andrew Garfield

Celia                Blake Lively

Alec                  John Gallagher, Jr.

Happy Reading!

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The Talented Mr. Ripley

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Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith has been called a master of the psychological thriller. Her character Tom Ripley is as well.

Highsmith was the Edgar-award winning author of Strangers on A Train and The Price of Salt, recently adapted into the film Carol. Tom Ripley, introduced to the world in The Talented Mr. Ripley may have been her greatest invention: a psychopath with self-esteem issues who kills in cold blood, assumes the life of his victim, lives the high life in his victim’s clothes for a while — all the while holding the reader in thrall with some actual empathy for poor Tom’s predicament.

He remembered that right after that, he had stolen a loaf of bread from a delicatessen counter and had taken it home and devoured it, feeling that the world owed a loaf of bread to him, and more.

The Movie

Jude GwynethI had seen the Matt Damon-Gwyneth Paltrow-Jude Law film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999, and loved it. All those gorgeous retro costumes. Italian scenery. Jude Law in a bathing suit. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett and Anthony Minghella. It was nominated for five Academy awards and deservedly so. But I had not read Ms. Highsmith’s original work until recently.

The Book

And it is riveting. The Talented Mr. Ripley begins in New York with a decidedly untalented Tom Ripley running a series of minor cons in order to finance his woeful life. He’s out of a job, out of a home, out of friends. Until Herbert Greenleaf appears and begs Tom — as one of his son’s “dearest” friends — to travel to Europe, first class, on Herbert’s dime and convince son Dickie to come back home. It takes Tom all of about two seconds to jump on board and the next thing you know, he’s walking down the beach in fictional Mongibello (rendered on screen as the volcanic island of Ischia) having to introduce himself to an acquaintance who barely remembers him.

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Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the 1960 French adaptation, Plein Soleil

But Tom has decided to be the kind of guy who makes good things happen for himself. Whatever the cost.

There’s been a but of hubbub in my noon bookclub at the Carnegie Center Lexington recently about whether a book without a likable protagonist is a likable book. There have been loads of recent bestsellers whose less-than-likeable, ok . . . psychopathic . . . characters made them insatiable reads: Girl on A Train, Gone Girl. In a 2015 article, Sam Jordison of The Guardian takes on the topic by reexamining The Talented Mr. Ripley. When faced with a reader complaining of the lack of books with likable characters, Jordison suggests handing them a copy of the The Talented Mr. Ripley:

It is near impossible, I would say, not to root for Tom Ripley. Not to like him. Not, on some level, to want him to win. Patricia Highsmith does a fine job of ensuring he wheedles his way into our sympathies. It’s a classic story of someone who starts off down on his luck and disregarded, but who, through force of personality, hard work and sheer determination, manages to make something of himself. He’s had a hard upbringing. He lost his parents and was brought up by an aunt who called him a “sissy”. And yet, he came out the other end polite, self-effacing, hard working. He is endearingly shy in company and worried about the impression he makes on others. He is always assessing himself, always trying to improve.  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/02/tom-ripley-the-likable-psychopath-patricia-highsmith

And yet … eyeglasses_318-68634

He had appreciated Marc’s possessions, and they were  what had attracted him to the house, but they were not his own, and it had been impossible to make a beginning at acquiring anything of his own on forty dollars a week. It would have taken him the best years of his life, even if he had economised stringently, to buy the things he wanted. Dickie’s money had given him only an added momentum on the road he had been travelling. The money gave him the leisure to see Greece, to collect Etruscan pottery if he wanted (he had recently read an interesting book on that subject by an American living in Rome), to join art societies if he cared to and to donate to their work. It gave him the leisure, for instance, to read his Malraux tonight as late as he pleased, because he did not have to go to a job in the morning. He had just bought a two-volume edition of Malraux’s Psychologic de I’art which he was now reading, with great pleasure, in French with the aid of a dictionary.”

I truly enjoyed the time I spent in Mongibello with Dickie Greenleaf and his friend Marge and meeting their friends — and others. Your book club will enjoy it too. And there’s great Italian food to be culled. And lots and lots of Martinis.

MENU

Fresh greens simply dressed with good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

Pasta with seafood. I would make linguine with white clam sauce because that’s my favorite. I buy the small cans of clams at the grocery store and use the recipe on the back but add white wine to the saute.

Martinis.stock-illustration-5259788-retro-martini

MUSIC

The setting of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reputed to be in the late 1950s though Highsmith throughout uses a date with the notation “19–,” leaving the question open. I tend to be influenced by the movie’s choice of music and would play:

Chet Baker

Charlie Parker

Miles Davis

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

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The Past and Future of Nao: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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     Schroedinger’s Cat.  Kamikaze pilots.  Buddhist nuns.  An agricultural installation artist.  A writer with writer’s block who has the same name as the author of the novel you are reading who is reading a journal written inside a copy of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time a decade ago that disappears and reappears while she is reading it.  British Columbia.  Japan.  Philosophy.  Science.  Time.

    Nao, a teenager living in Japan, begins the novel by defining a time being.  “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.  As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future.  And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.”

   This book is remarkably layered.  In essence there are three concrete time and geographical zones represented, plus one rather hazy one.  The life of a young man forced to become a Kamikaze pilot who keeps a secret diary in French.  The young man’s great-niece Nao, who lives in Tokyo and has written her diary inside the altered Proust novel.  And Ruth, the writer, who finds Nao’s diary and the Kamikaze’s letters and diary inside a Hello, Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach in a very remote, often electricity-free, island in Canada.   As Ruth reads Nao’s diary and Nao reads pilot Haruki’s words, the lives of all three become entwined and influenced in a way that my limited experience would say is physically impossible.  Of course, science has a way of explaining it, which Ruth’s  Image

husband explains is called “universal wave function.”  WARNING:  I am now going to try to explain this theory.  Again I say WARNING.  So Hugh Everett, noted scientist, posited that essentially, every time you make a choice, one part of you makes the opposite choice and exists in another world so that every one of you exists within some parallel universe.  Ever see Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow?  Kinda like that.

  And Schrodinger’s Cat has something to do with it too.  Or not.  Maybe Schrodinger’s Cat is just thrown in there as a way of tying together Ruth’s cat Pesto and the Hello, Kitty lunchbox from which Nao’s world appeared.  Not to mention the “tale.”Image

 

      The Washington Post included A Tale for the Time Being on its list of the 50 Best Fiction books of 2013 and it was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize of 2013.

     Book Club Menu

    Sushi — Unless you are a pro, pick up an order to go from your favorite sushi vendor

    Sake

    Fresh oysters

    Clam Chowder.  Here’s a recipe for Clam Chowder Canadian Military Style:

1/2 cup butter
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 (6.5 ounce) cans minced clams,
drained with juice reserved
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
 
1. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine the butter, celery and onion. Saute for about 3 minutes, add the flour and stir well to make a dry roux. Add the reserved clam juice to make a paste, then slowly add enough cold water to reach the desired thickness.
2. Add the potatoes, milk, thyme and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and allow soup to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the clams and allow to heat throug

   For dessert:  Melty Kisses were Old Jiko’s favorite chocolate and I found them for sale on Amazon.  http://www.amazon.com/Meiji-Fruity-Strawberry-Chocolate-By/dp/B0047YJESY#  Or just chocolate, I’m sure Old Jiko will appreciate any effort.

MUSIC

  How about a mix tape of songs about time?
Time Is on my Side, The Rolling Stones

Time in a Bottle, Jim Croce

Yesterday, the Beatles

Time after Time, Cyndi Lauper

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & The Comets (OK, that one’s a little hokey)

I’m not going to cast this movie because I think my knowledge would be too-limited.  I’d love to hear your thoughts though.

In the words of Ruth Ozeki, ” I bow to you all.”  Happy Reading.

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