This month I’m reading James Lasdun’s slight but powerful memoir, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. I would love to be able to state exactly what this book is about, that it can be distilled down to a simple “cautionary tale.” In fact, it is that but so much more.
Perhaps the book would be best described as a very real depiction of human frailty or folly. You would think a story about a college professor being stalked by an irrational former student would present a clear picture of victim and perpetrator, but Mr. Lasdun carefully circumvents the good v. evil p”aradigm, always alluding to (or outright admitting) his culpability in “how things went down.”
The story begins at a pseudonymous college where Mr. Lasdun is teaching creative writing. His initially benign relationship with a female student whose writing he finds compelling gradually morphs into a quasi-professional relationship after the woman is no longer his student. “Nasreen” shows promise, but she’s also a bit of a flirt. Over sharing in e-mail soon becomes over-bearing to the self-proclaimed happily married Lasdun, who attempts to cease any and all contact with Nasreen as her missives become more and more erratic.
And that’s when things get really interesting.
Nasreen goes on a quest (and, yes, quests appear to be a passion of Mr. Lasdun, as he frequently quotes the mythic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight along with D.H. Lawrence). Mr. Lasdun “gets” that men can behave badly simply because they are male, and that a mild flirtation that is reciprocated can lead to far more treacherous activities.
I’m only about 2/3 the way through the book, but I do see how Lasdun’s fate could befall almost anyone. As he talks about “reputation,” I realize that anyone can be slandered online (or is it libeled, since technically the words are written down). You don’t have to be famous. You don’t have to be rich. You just need to bump up against one unhinged person to watch your entire life be about defending yourself from a relentless attack, which can be launched with a single click of a mouse.