Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun

Cyberbullying isn’t just a teenage phenomenon.

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25)

Cyberbullying isn’t just a teenage phenomenon, said Emma Garman in Novelist and poet James Lasdun was a married, middle-aged father of two when he suddenly became the target of a former pupil’s campaign to destroy him from afar. “Nasreen,” as he calls his tormenter, opened the assault with a flood of vicious, anti-Semitic emails before disseminating her allegations of plagiarism, philandering, and even rape via emails to his colleagues and comment sections linked to his books. Lasdun’s “stunningly well-written” account reads like a warning: “What befell him could befall anyone.”

His book “deftly evokes the chill power of cyberstalking,” said Edward Kosner in The Wall Street Journal. When Nasreen’s campaign ignited, the simple task of checking his email was, Lasdun writes, “like swallowing a cup of poison every morning.” The young Iranian-American woman had been a standout student in a 2003 fiction workshop he taught and, after the pair started a friendly correspondence, she initially responded reasonably when he rebuffed her flirtations. After the abuse began, Lasdun got little to no help from the FBI and the police—in part because his stalker was a nonviolent harasser who lived in another state. But Lasdun’s anxiety about how Nasreen might be destroying others’ trust in him was real. This was an asymmetric war, and he never does find a way to give the story a satisfactory conclusion.

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That’s partly because he never accepts that Nasreen is probably mentally ill, said Jenny Turner in The Guardian (U.K.). He even admits that labeling her as simply mad would make his story, “for literary purposes, less interesting.” Yet doing otherwise makes him seem more concerned with being a victim than with getting answers. Still, you can’t fault him for refusing to blame the whole episode on a meaningless mix of chemicals in Nasreen’s brain, said Laura Miller in After all, “insisting that the tribulations people live through amount to more than an accident of biology” is “essentially what writers do.”

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