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

31 Mar


This book was wildly entertaining, in the form of a train-wreck.

In 2008, the writer James Lasdun, teaching creative writing at an MFA program in New York has in a workshop class a quiet, impressive student of Iranian descent. She becomes the star of his class and then, sometime later, an e-mail friend. (We’ve all had them). He’s married, she’s flirty, but he thinks the right lines have been drawn in the sand…..

I won’t say anything further, in order not to detract from the joyful vicarious horror of what follows. Lasdun has a precision hand with relaying the details, quoting from e-mails and parsing his own justifications and mental state. The portrait is made more complex and compelling, too, by the ways in which he takes both too much blame and too little, and by the extremes to which the stalker takes her persecution of him.

Lasdun is a hardcore intellectual, and he brings in a folktale, architecture, Israel, a Middle-English romance (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), a three-day train ride, and his own published fiction (both pre- and during the stalking) to tease meaning out of the experience.

This is the folktale: “A young man on a journey comes across a corpse at the edge of a village. On inquiring why the corpse has not been buried, he is told that the dead man was in debt and that his creditors are refusing permission for the burial to take place until the debts have been paid. The young man, though not rich, immediately pays the debts and the burial goes forward. That night the dead man comes to thank him. As a token of his gratitude he offers to accompany the young man on his travels and give him the benefit of the supernatural powers death has conferred on him. His only condition is that everything they gain on their adventures be divided equally between them.” It all goes well until… “one day they meet a woman, young and attractive. And now all of a sudden the men are confronted by an apparently insurmountable problem: how to divide the woman in two.”

Most of us are not actively aware of the schism between our private selves and our reputations or public selves. Lasdun was forced to, in effect, drag along an effigy, the “James Lasdun” created by his stalker, a monstrous corpse pinned to his public being. The public persona as a twin, not alive but separate, animated, imitating life, something that one is responsible for, but which moves in mysterious ways of its own sounds right, to me, in the Internet era.

Being hated and loved and hated (“give me everything you have”), tempestuously, non-consensually, without cease, as the stalker did to Lasdun also feels somehow apt for the era. Our virtual twins have magical powers. We pour an extremely condensed energy into them. Should we be surprised when they walk and talk and win admirers?

Give this book to all your friends who teach at writing programs.





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