Haslett, Adam 1970-
HASLETT, Adam 1970-
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Writer and attorney.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Magazine Award finalist, for "Notes to My Biographer;" fellowships from Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and Michener/Copernicus Society of America; You Are Not a Stranger Here chosen as National Book Award finalist, 2002, and Pulitzer Prize for fiction finalist, 2003; L.L. Winship PEN New England Award, 2003.
You Are Not a Stranger Here (stories), Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Zoetrope, Yale Review, and Bomb.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Adam Haslett simultaneously applied for admission to Yale Law School as well as to a number of writing fellowships, and he was successful in both areas. Yale gave him a one-year deferral so that he could study in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and when he was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop the deferral was extended by two additional years. During the second semester of Haslett's law studies, a Doubleday editor, who had read one of his short stories, offered to publish a collection. Thus, Haslett's law degree was postponed yet another year so that he could write an adequate number of new stories to take Doubleday up on their offer.
"Notes to My Biographer," the first of the nine stories in You Are Not a Stranger Here, was originally published in Zoetrope. It focuses on Frank Singer, an aged inventor and veteran suffering from mental illness who doesn't trust the medical establishment; by refusing to take his medication he makes life hell for all around him. Frank drives to California to see his gay son, Graham, who is suffering from the same inherited illness; the son does take his meds, though, for fear that not doing so will result in behaviors that would drive away his lover.
Reviewing the story for Salon.com, Laura Miller said, "it's not a story about the ravages of mental illness after all, but one about the price paid for mental health. More often than not, Haslett's characters find themselves contemplating a choice between subduing their demons or facing them head on; these stories are full of people deciding not to swallow their pills. … The twist in an Adam Haslett story is often a revelation about who is actually the stronger in a pair of characters."
Craig Seligman wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Haslett "may have talent to burn … but his prose exudes a desolation so choking that it can come only from somewhere deep inside. … Haslett has despair. And I don't mean the histrionic despair of discouraged youth. … Haslett writes like a man inured to disappointment." Seligman called "Notes to My Biographer" and the collection's last story, "The Volunteer," the "showpieces of the collection." The latter is about an ageing, institutionalized female schizophrenic and the high school volunteer who visits her. Regarding "Notes to My Biographer" Seligman wrote, "It's funny, it's awful, and it's the only one of the stories in this collection that gave me some hope that their creator might be able to draw some pleasure out of the spectacular career that … he's surely heading into."
Several of Haslett's stories are set in Great Britain, including "Reunion," in which a young man is dying of AIDS. Two stories that are gay-themed are "The Beginnings of Grief" and "Devotion," about a brother and sister who love the same man. Other stories that deal with mental illness include "Divination," in which a boy has the gift of prophecy but considers it a mental illness. Seligman said that this theme "supplies the ruling metaphor for the collection: a debilitating, humiliating, alienating condition … that can be escaped only through death; a condition, in other words, that's very much like life."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called "War's End" "a hypnotically strange amalgam of Chekhov and Beckett" and "one of the finest, and most unusual, stories of recent years." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, thought this same story veers too much "toward the sentimental," though the reviewer concluded that You Are Not a Stranger Here is "a strikingly assured first effort." Finally, Book reviewer Tom LeClair said that the collection "welcomes the courageous—and the estranged."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, July-August, 2002, Tom LeClair, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here, p. 78.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here, p. 685.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Edward Keane, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here, p. 148.
New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2002, Craig Seligman, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, July 8, 2002, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here, p. 32.
Book Sense,http://news/bookweb.org/ (August 1, 2002), Anne Whalen, interview with Haslett.
MSNBC.com,http://www.msnbc.com/ (August 29, 2002), Will Femia, moderator, chat with Haslett.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (August 1, 2002), Laura Miller, review of You Are Not a Stranger Here.
Zoetrope online,http://www.all-story.com/ (February 8, 2003), Adam Haslett, "Notes to My Biographer."