James Lasdun’s new book, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked — from which he’ll be reading and of which he’ll signing copies of at Golden Notebook’s new upstairs space at 4 p.m. Saturday, February 16 — is scary good. And deeply complicated in the rare ways one seeks in the best of literature. It’s completely non-fiction, although it references a wealth of works that have come before it…and sets the tone for a whole new genre of necessary works.
It all starts in as safe a place as one can imagine, living here — a creative writing class that the celebrated British-born poet, short story writer and novelist teaches in a New York college. He talks about the anxieties bred by sharing one’s creations in such settings, showing empathy for his students and humble humor about his own literary standing. Then, like a classic Hitchcock narrative (or one of his own, as he eventually points out), things start to run awry. He lets one student, who he’s pegged as being more talented and likely to reach the stage of getting a novel published, get a bit closer than is usual. He introduces her to his agent, who says her work isn’t ready for representation yet, but sets “Nasreen” up with an editor. The two meet for a coffee, she hands him her book…and things start to go crazy.
Nasreen, who Lasdun describes as best he can without treading into libel territory, starts harassing her former teacher with e-mails. She flirts, taunts, grows angry…and starts appearing in his online mailbox repeatedly each day. Then grows mean to the point of harassment, calling herself a verbal terrorist. And then charges her former teacher with terrorism…and worse.
“You don’t have to be a writer to imagine how it feels to find yourself the object of a malicious attack on the Internet,” he writes after describing, and showing examples, of how his stalker starts spreading her venom around through Amazon, Goodreads, Wikipedia and other public online sites. “An ordinary negative review is depressing, but it doesn’t flood you with this sense of personal emergency, as if not only your book but also your life, or at least that large aura of meaning that accumulates around your life and gives it value, is in imminent and dire peril.”
Eventually, Nasreen starts attacking the agent Lasdun has introduced her to, as well as the editor she turned her on to. She starts e-mailing his employers, editors, and work friends charging him with sexual harassment, adultery, and literary theft. Eventually, she finds ways of taking on other persona, operating out of other e-mails…and after several years, starts writing e-mails under his name.
Lasdun goes to the New York Police, who call Nasreen…to no avail. Her crimes aren’t the sort anyone wants to spend money prosecuting. Eventually, Woodstock police help out. The story goes on and on for years…and is still happening, according to the author.