Book Review: Give Me Everything You Have

13Apr13

giveme

Title: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked

Author: James Lasdun

Genre: Memoir

Length: 218 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main

Challenge: Wishlist Challenge 2013

Summary: A novelist and writing professor pens an extremely literary account of being digitally stalked by a former student.

Analysis

It’s happened to almost everyone, I’m certain: you think you’re being nice / polite, and the other person thinks you’re flirting, or otherwise showing romantic/sexual interest. If you’re lucky, and the balance of power in your relationship is equal, this can be written off as a misunderstanding, with mild embarrassment on one or both sides. If you’re a teacher, boss, or any person with a modicum of power in the relationship then, whether you like it or not, the burden is on you to maintain the appropriate professional distance. Because if you let your guard down, and intentions are misconstrued, there could be hell to pay.

James Lasdun learned this lesson the hard way after striking up an e-mail friendship with a former student he calls Nasreen. Due to cultural differences in communication styles, Lasdun fails to realize he is being subtly flirted with, in the midst of all the professional chatter over Nasreen’s writing. When he finally sees the light and tries to set appropriate boundaries, the lady scorned takes it…poorly. And thus begins a terrifying, targeted campaign to ruin Lasdun’s credibility as an author and a teacher, one that will have you squirming uncomfortably in your chair, wishing you were somewhere else.

If you can get past the awkward sense of eavesdropping on something that is None Of Your Business, you will be treated to a highly literary analysis of the problem. At his wits’ end–not even the FBI can stop Nasreen once she gets ramped up–Lasdun turns to his best tools and weapons, namely literary exegesis and cultural criticism–to try to understand what the hell is happening to his life. This is commendable: most ordinary folk would turn to drink or drugs, but Lasdun is a scholar, and chooses to fight fire with fire. And the results are impressive: anybody who can take his own personal hell, and draw literary comparisons to both Gawain and the Green Knight AND Strangers on a Train is an intellectual force to be reckoned with, and while Lasdun’s tone can veer into pomposity, it’s easily recognizable as protective covering for the anguish he clearly feels.

The end of the narrative does not, alas, bring closure or relief. Nasreen is STILL e-mailing and calling Lasdun multiple times a day, still following him around online making outlandish claims. It’s got to be awful. One gets the sense, however, that–having told his story in the best way he knows how–Nasreen has lost some essential weaponry, namely the ability to maintain a monopoly on “truth.” Having laid bare his soul and shame, Lasdun can go about the rest of his life with a sense of having done all he can. And we, the readers, are left with the uneasy awareness that all relationships involve some sort of power dynamic, and that it’s essential to be aware of those dynamics and handle them with care. A highly literary, decidedly uncomfortable, but definitely worthwhile read.

Recommended for: academics and independent scholars; those who study digital culture; fans of true crime tales; anybody who loves a good real-life train wreck and doesn’t mind lofty metaphor.

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