The second session I attended on Sunday featured authors Adam Haslett and Mitchell Jackson, each of whom spoke about and read from his latest work. In Haslett’s case that is his new novel Imagine Me Gone, and for Jackson it’s a nonfiction piece about an elderly uncle of his who “tutored” Jackson about the world of dealing drugs when the author was still in high school. Jackson also spoke about a novel of his own titled The Residue Years.
In one sense, the two novels are very different: Haslett’s is about a middle class white family struggling with the mental illnesses of two of its members, and Jackson’s is about a lower class black family with a history of drug dealing and prison sentences. But in another sense, in addition to being autobiographical, the two books share a common theme, and this is why Haslett and Jackson were paired together for a session that can be titled “Inheritance: On family history and inheritance in fiction.”
In addition to Imagine Me Gone, a novel that took five years to complete, Adam Haslett is also the author of one other novel, Union Atlantic (winner of the Lambda Literary Award and a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize), and the Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. Mitchell Jackson’s The Residue Years (winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence) is his only novel, but he is also the author of Oversoul, an e-book collection of short stories and essays.
Interestingly, both books begin with the end of their story. Haslett says that he actually did write his book in chronological order before turning Imagine Me Gone into a flashback novel by placing its ending at the beginning of the book – something he did, he says, in order to create a “sense of unease throughout the whole book.” The end of Jackson’s The Residue Years began life as a short story that the author decided to explore a little more deeply by turning it into a novel. It makes a certain kind of sense that he would begin with the story and use flashback to further explore the story’s characters and motivations.
(Those interested in learning more about Imagine Me Gone can do so by coming back to Book Chase on Friday for my review of the novel. I also plan to read and review Jackson’s The Residue Years as soon as my library locates a copy for me.)