THE KIND OF STALKING described in James Lasdun’s meditative new memoir, Give Me Everything You Have, is new in history. Lasdun isn’t concerned with the apartment stakeouts of a starstruck fan or being shadowed by a jilted lover. His stalker never presents herself in person (she and he were acquainted at one time, but the stalking began only after their last encounter), which lends a sinister twist to the story. An embodied stalker can be in only one place at a time. An internet stalker — what “Nasreen” (a pseudonym) proved to be — can attack copiously and seemingly inexhaustibly, all day long and even in the guise of other people.
Lasdun is a versatile and prolific writer who has published two novels, four story collections, and three poetry collections. He also teaches in graduate writing programs. Give Me Everything You Have is, on the most straightforward level, the story of his victimization by a crazed former student who accused him of everything from stealing parts of her novel to being a philanderer and a rapist. Had it been merely (merely!) that, the book would still stand out from the usual round of victim memoirs by virtue of the author’s empathy for, and curiosity about, his tormentor. But Lasdun has more to offer than this. His associative and literary cast of mind leads him to digressions on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, a cross-country journey to D.H. Lawrence’s ranch in New Mexico, his architect father’s various municipal projects in London and Jerusalem, and the psychology of anti-Semitism. The relevance of these asides, absorbing in themselves, becomes clear as this graceful, circularly constructed book unwinds.
The origin of the stalking dates back to 2003. Lasdun is teaching at a New York City institution that he calls Morgan College but that is likely NYU. A thirtysomething Iranian-born woman in his class strikes him as having unusual talent, and he encourages her warmly. Two years later, when Nasreen, having finished her novel, gets back in touch with him, he offers to recommend her to his agent. Over the following weeks and months, the two keep up an email correspondence that Lasdun describes as increasingly flirtatious on Nasreen’s part. Lasdun admits that in general he “quite likes” being flirted with, and he finds himself charmed by Nasreen’s nimble intelligence and her interest in the details of his work and home life. When his agent is slow in getting to the novel, Lasdun offers to read a portion of it himself. He and Nasreen meet in a café in the West Village so that she can give him the manuscript. They have a short conversation, during which he mentions a worry that happens to be on his mind: he and his wife are losing the longtime subtenant of their New York City apartment. Sharing this apartment with the tenant has, for years, allowed Lasdun to take on teaching jobs in the city even though his primary residence is upstate.
Lasdun is impressed by the manuscript. His agent does not take it on. And now, by Lasdun’s report, Nasreen’s emails cross the line from flirtatious, and a bit too frequent, to overtly off-kilter. She proposes that he smuggle her into his train sleeper, and she makes it clear that she believes he has had an affair with another student in their MFA class.
Lasdun, startled, replies that...read more