Friday, March 15, 2013

Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, by James Lasdun

Despite the title, and despite the first of this memoir's four sections, James Lasdun's Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked is not solely a tale of obsession and threat. If that's what you're expecting—and the book certainly sets you up for such expectations—you'll be disappointed. What I took to be a digression about D.H. Lawrence in the second section was really an announcement as to the book's true nature. Thus, assays into Lasdun's family history (especially his father), anti-Semitism, Sir Gawain, and the swamp of Israeli political become much of the book, the pursuit via internet by a former (clearly unhinged) female student slipping to the margins. And when Lasdun, mostly known for his (terrific) short fiction, says on more than one occasion that he ought to mention now something he failed to mention before, thus undermining our confidence in this chronology of creepiness, you aren't meant to fault the misleading structure of the book but rather, I think, recognize the Lasdun has taken this awful aspect of his present life and shaped it so it can fruitfully address larger issues.

In truth, we're never allowed to set aside "Nasreen," the former writing student who becomes obsessed with Lasdun, and whose infatuation turns, as such things do when humans become objectified, into bilious hatred. Even when Lasdun shifts to other matters, his aim is to show how Nasreen's endless, invective-filled e-mails become for him a pair of lenses on the world, lenses that he cannot remove. So Lasdun's concern about the amorphous issue of "reputation," his tense reflections on his responses to any attractive woman, his dream-life, and an article he researches on construction of a temple in Jerusalem's Old City—all are altered by Nasreen's narrative about terrorism, rape (both real and metaphorical), and plagiarism.

What comes through is Lasdun's personality. He's certainly naive in the early days of the relationship, though he's no fool; another writer, however, might have made himself seem either more insightful or more the victim. Lasdun, who's English, doesn't react as one imagines most Americans might, with anger and a desire for vengeance. He's a quiet sort who knows the pestering has become a prosecutable assault, but he's more driven by anxiety and dread and an unwarranted hope than the desire to fix the problem.

The story's end reminds me of Anne Sexton's poem "The Awful Rowing Toward God": "This story ends with me still rowing." The attacks, via e-mail, wikipedia, Amazon, and through colleagues, have been dialed back, but they haven't altogether ceased. Lasdun's temperament, though, allows him to see his story as part of a larger history of desire and violence; his intellect, which got him into this mess, allows him to stay sane.

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