Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Imagine Me Gone"

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.

Haslett applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Imagine Me Gone, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He shut the bedroom door to give Donna her privacy and then told me this gig was like nothing they'd ever done before."Bullshit," he called it. He's been bribing an officer to send telegrams to everyone in LA he can think of to try to get them airlifted out of here, but he suspects the messages are never sent. Donna apparently has a heart condition which is acting up. She was supposed to be in the studio five days ago, and her voice is at the breaking point. We talked a bit about Munich in the mid-seventies, the dilemma about whether to sign with Geffen, and how Donna wanted to move toward more of a rock sound on her next album. I wanted to tell him that they couldn't control what they'd started, that the beats would only get faster and the synth more gorgeous, but this seemed presumptuous. I was worried the door might open and Donna might appear and I would be ugly and dumbstruck. So eventually I excused myself, and hustled back down to our cabins on 5.

To be honest, Aunt Penny, I'm not sure what will become of us now. We thought it was bad when Dad got shackled to Jim Pottes two days ago, making sleeping awkward for everyone, and then Dad woke up with Jim's corpse locked to his ankle and wrist, dead with the Marburg that Mom presumably gave him. We lost half the morning cleaning up all that blood and mucus (except that little fidget-creature, Alec, who said he had a headache). I'd planned to do so much reading on this trip, and have got to practically none of it. In any case, at the rate the crew's expiring I guess they'll need someone to sail this puppy north again, so maybe I'll have a chance to catch up then."
As it happens, page 69 of Imagine Me Gone encapsulates one of the main tensions and (I hope) pleasures of the book, which is the absurdist juxtaposition and intermingling of parody and suffering in the character of Michael, the elder brother of the family that the book centers on. It's Michael's mental troubles, and the legacy of his father's depression that the other characters must contend with over the course of three decades. In this particular moment, Michael is writing a "letter" to his Aunt Penny from a ship on a transatlantic crossing on which Donna Summer is the main stage entertainment--all of it an elaborate fantasy. Here he finally gets to speak to her producer Giorgio Moroder, one of the father's of disco, with which he is obsessed, and commiserate about the disaster of the (imagined) trip they are on, the disastrousness of which becomes clear in the second paragraph, which further details the slave ship conditions that Michael is terrifying his aunt (and himself) by describing. This is how he functions in the book. He speaks through parody and elaborate exaggeration, which is a form of relief from the unrelenting quality of his anxiety. In my own family, that kind of laughter was a reprieve, and my hope is that it serves a similar role in the novel.
Visit Adam Haslett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Union Atlantic.

--Marshal Zeringue