Sunday, December 01, 2013

Everything on Stalking, Please

The title of the book is Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. But the cover distinguishes between the title and subtitle only by the color differentiation, so it can be read as though a guy walked into a library and asked the librarian to "give me everything you have on being stalked."  And yes, this book would be on that list.

This book is very much a memoir, and it suffers, as some memoirs do, from the fact that I don't like the narrator very much.  I feel for James Lasdun, and unlike a lot of Goodreads reviewers, I don't assume that he was having an affair with this woman, or is misrepresenting his role in what happened somehow.  But the guy comes across as seriously self-absorbed, a complete snob, and maybe a little socially awkward (that could just be a reflection of his full-of-himselfness).

Now, I'll admit, I'm writing this before I've finished it (if I wait till I'm done with a book I never review it), so it could be that there's something at the end that will make me say, "Yes, my god, they are right. He must have slept with her."  But have you read The Gift of Fear?  (If not, you should.  Between this book and that one, Everything You Have may be the more literary, but Gift of Fear is the more compelling and psychologically honest.)  There are people who are just like this, who will fixate on you to one degree or another and not obey any of the social rules, without your doing anything out of line.

So yeah, I believe that things happened, even as he described them.  And yeah, his protests that he recognized her flirting but ignored it is probably disingenuous--either that or he's really dumb.  But engaging in an online flirtation does not mean he "asked for it."  It just makes his surprise less believable.

And then--here's where his negative Goodreads reviews get more on point--he starts to examine the exact emotional place he was around the time that their correspondence took place.  Really, this structure is weird for a lot of reasons: first, he relates the whole story in a relatively succinct and matter of fact way--a very interesting, long-article-length piece that is very factual and not speculative.  Then he backs up and puts layers of context and psychology and introspection on top of it, which is kind of tortured. 

This is clearly a man who's been taking notes for his memoir for years and has FINALLY found something interesting enough to sell to people, so is squishing all his favorite entries from his journal into this book.  Seriously, your emotional state during the period when you were not writing to her does not relate in any way to what she did.  Your silence over email conveyed no subtleties of the human condition.  Get over yourself, dude.

And if you do take this at face value--if you say, okay, being stalked gave this guy a reason to blather on a bit about Life and Art and things.  Let's measure him by that yardstick.  Really, this is where I really start to dislike him.  He wishes he wanted to write poems about Big, Important Things, instead of just personal, introspective poems about things like his relationship with his father.  But he's not compelled to write about those big issues, and he hates himself for that, considers himself a small man without any claim to High Art.  His father, now there was a guy who knew High Art.

Etc.  Seriously, you guys can guess how I feel about High Art, particularly as distinguished from The Kind Of Art That Appeals To The Masses.  I try not to misuse the word "pretentious"--it's not pretentious to like classical music, it's pretentious to fake liking it because that's what classy people like--but I'm pretty sure this is the worst kind of pretension.  He's horrible.

And that's pretty much where I am with this.  I'll finish it, because I want to know what's going to happen with the stalking.  But I'm not going to recommend it.  I think enjoying this book might mean you're pretentious.  But hey, tell me if I'm wrong.

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