The publication of "Notes to My Biographer," in Zoetrope: All-Story magazine introduced readers to the remarkable voice of Adam Haslett. Nominated as part of a National Magazine Award, broadcast on National Public Radio, performed at venues across the country, the story brought the author widespread recognition. Now, in his first book, Adam Haslett gives us nine richly varied stories, each suffused with intense emotion and written in a lyric prose alternatively lush and spare. You Are Not a Stranger Here carries its readers into the hearts and minds of people facing life's most profound dilemmas. We meet an aging inventor still burning with ideas as he makes a final visit to his gay son. A psychiatrist's encounter with a reluctant patient reveals a young doctor's own needs and fears. An orphaned boy finds solace in a classmate's violence. The return of an old lover disturbs the peace between a brother and sister who have lived together for decades. In settings that range from New England to Great Britain, from Los Angeles to the American West, the stories in this book treat what Faulkner called the old verities and truths of the heart: love and honor, pity and pride, compassion and sacrifice.
- National Book Awards
- Pulitzer Prize
In this affecting debut collection, Yale Law School student Haslett explores the complex phenomena of depression and mental illness, drawing a powerful connection between those who suffer and those who attempt to alleviate that suffering. In "The Good Doctor," Frank, a young M.D., goes out of his way to discover the origin of his patient's illness, only to learn of both her untreatable pain and his own fears and regrets: "The fact was he still felt like a sponge, absorbing the pain of the people he listened to." In "The Beginnings of Grief," suffering becomes a way of healing when a teenager coming to terms with both his homosexuality and his parents' sudden deaths seeks connection wherever he can find it, even in the pain inflicted by a classmate's violence. Often, Haslett convincingly interweaves the perspectives and lives of seemingly disparate individuals. In "The Volunteer," a teenager's awkward incomprehension in the face of his first sexual encounter bizarrely coincides with the breakdown of a schizophrenic woman he visits after school. Not all of the stories are charged with this kind of emotional complexity, however, and some tend toward the sentimental, as does "The Storyteller," in which the clinically depressed Paul, who feels himself to be nothing but a burden to his wife, Ellen, rediscovers his vitality in a chance encounter with an elderly woman and her dying son. Though the thematic similarity of many of the stories dulls their startling initial impact, this is a strikingly assured first effort. (July) Forecast: A blurb from Jonathan Franzen is particularly apt, since Haslett's eye for contemporary detail and talent for capturing complex emotional states makes his work resemble that of the author of The Corrections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 11, 2003
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Excerpt from You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett
Notes to My Biographer
Two things to get straight from the beginning: I hate doctors and have never joined a support group in my life. At seventy-three, I'm not about to change. The mental health establishment can go screw itself on a barren hill top in the rain before I touch their snake oil or listen to the visionless chatter of men half my age. I have shot Germans in the fields of Normandy, filed twenty-six patents, married three women, survived them all and am currently the subject of an investigation by the IRS, which has about as much chance of collecting from me as Shylock did of getting his pound of flesh. Bureaucracies have trouble thinking clearly. I, on the other hand, am perfectly lucid.
Note for instance how I obtained the Saab I'm presently driving into the Los Angeles basin: a niece in Scotsdale lent it to me. Do you think she'll ever see it again? Unlikely. Of course when I borrowed it from her I had every intention of returning it and in a few days or weeks I may feel that way again, but for now forget her and her husband and three children who looked at me over the kitchen table like I was a museum piece sent to bore them. I could run circles around those kids. They're spoon fed ritalin and private schools and have eyes that say give me things I don't have. I wanted to read them a book on the history of the world, its migrations, plagues, and wars, but the shelves of their outsized condominium were full of ceramics and biographies of the stars. The whole thing depressed the hell out of me and I'm glad to be gone.
A week ago I left Baltimore with the idea of seeing my son Graham. I've been thinking about him a lot recently, days we spent together in the barn at the old house, how with him as my audience ideas came quickly and I don't know when I'll get to see him again. I thought I might as well catch up with some of the other relatives along the way and planned to start at my daughter Linda's in Atlanta but when I arrived it turned out she'd moved. I called Graham and when he got over the shock of hearing my voice, he said Linda didn't want to see me. By the time my younger brother Ernie refused to do anything more than have lunch with me after I'd taken a bus all the way to Houston, I began to get the idea this episodic reunion thing might be more trouble than it was worth. Scotsdale did nothing to alter my opinion. These people seem to think they'll have another chance, that I'll be coming around again. The fact is I've completed my will, made bequests of my patent rights, and am now just composing a few notes to my biographer who, in a few decades when the true influence of my work becomes apparent, may need them to clarify certain issues.