Give Me Everything You Have chronicles how the life of a professor crumbles after the smothering idolization and infatuation deteriorates into a suffocatingly intense hatred. James Lasdun was a writing professor at a university who taught workshops. One of his most promising students struck up a correspondence with him on her quest to publish. It seemed like the two were destined for friendship--until the relationship soured.
Stalking is a subject that is of interest to me, both for personal reasons and for the sake of pure intellectual interest. I suspected from the get-go that mental illness was going to play a key role in this memoir; the obsession, the drive, and the sheer intensity of the hatred required to fuel the two aforementioned behaviors, bespeak maladaptive behavior and thought patterns.
I wanted to sympathize with Mr. Lasdun, but he made it extremely difficult to feel pity for him. Not that I blame him entirely for what happened (I don't), or that I think he received his just desserts (I don't), but I do think that his role in the escalation of these events was not as minimal as he might like to believe.
✉ When the emails from his student turned flirtatious and sexual, he should have terminated their correspondence then and there. The fact that he continued to talk to her after this happened several times does not look good for him at all, and I could understand how someone with BPD might believe that he had "led her on". At the very least, his conduct was inadvisable, if not unprofessional.
✉ This wasn't a book about being stalked so much as it was about Jewish history, culture, literature, and an affronted view of how men are basically victims of false cries of rape. I wanted to feel sorry for Mr. Lasdun--and I certainly feel for his wife and children--but he was so unlikable. He analyzed everything to the point where it seemed, as another reviewer pointed out, like navel gazing. He compared himself to Gawain, even to Jesus and Judas, and waxed tirelessly on the brilliance of authors as Tolstoy, Eliot, Lawrence, and Highsmith. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn.
His criticism of Goodreads not having a report option was laughable, especially when he said that that was the only reason an offensive review of his book was still there. I also thought that pointing out and naming that reviewer as possibly being his student reeked of BBA. What if wasn't his student? I kind of got the sense that Lasdun was encouraging people to seek out his abuser, and abuse her in turn. Indeed, when I checked that review out, it had several extremely abusive comments.
✉ His armchair psychiatry is extremely offensive--and also blatantly wrong. He confuses the definition of mental illness (maladaptive behaviors/thought patterns causing distress, inability or difficulty to function, harm to self and/or others physically, psychologically, or emotionally) with the criminal definition of insanity (being unable to tell the difference from right/wrong and/or recognize potential consequences at the time of committing the criminal act).
He also does not seem to understand what Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is, let alone that his student in question actually has it. The diagnosis was actually suggested by a policeman, who said that his student's obsessively abusive behavior reminded him of his BPD daughter. As a psychology major, I find the hubris of people who attribute their own diagnoses to others sickening and arrogant.
BPD does not mean that the person "chooses" to be sane or crazy as they wish, as Mr. Lasdun apparently believes. That is wrong. So, so, so wrong. Rather, people with BPD tend to have a very black and white view of the world, rife with internal chaos and self-hatred. Anything less than absolute praise is an insult, and their personal relationships tend to fluctuate wildly from absolute love and perfection to total hatred and imperfection. When people cannot live up to their expectations, they become angry and betrayed.
BPD is frequently accompanied by drug use, promiscuity, and self-harm/violence. It is a tragic disorder, and if you are curious about firsthand experiences of it, the woman who wrote Girl, Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen) was afflicted with BPD. The sad thing about personality disorders is that a) they tend to occur in clusters, or with other mental illnesses like mood disorders, and b) people with personality disorders don't see themselves as having the problem--they see other people as the problem--and are likely to meet suggestions of seeking help with extreme anger.
When Mr. Lasdun and his colleagues sent the student in question the letter inviting her to seek help, I flinched internally, because that was pretty much the worst thing that they could have done to someone with her unfortunate ailment. Had any of them actually bothered to research BPD, it is possible that the situation might not have escalated to this point.
✉ While reading this, I couldn't shake the dawning suspicion that the motives behind this, were, at least in part, meant as a publicity stunt. The nonstop commentary about literary novels, the references to his own works and skills as a professor (including teaching at Princeton), and his vehemence at his student's critiques of his work as being racist and sexist, made me wonder.
This had some interesting insights on stalking, and I have to say it was unique reading from a male victim's perspective about a female perpetrator, but the execution was rather dull and watery, and I had difficulty dredging up much sympathy for the author based on his highhanded sanctimoniousness.
1.5 to 2 stars out of 5.