February 22, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

Give Me Everything You Have

Current Status
In Season
James Lasdun
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
We gave it an A-

It can be unsettling to read about the experiences of celebrities with deranged fans, like David Letterman and Jodie Foster. But it’s downright skin-crawling to read this oddly poetic account of an ordinary person being stalked — because you realize how easily it could happen to anyone. Even to you.

”Nasreen” took James Lasdun’s fiction-writing seminar at a New York college. She was a good student, the best in the class, and afterward they struck up an email exchange. Though it was ”breezy, amicable” at first, soon Nasreen’s notes were laced with a sexual undercurrent. Lasdun parried with noncommittal replies before bluntly informing her, ”I really am extremely happily married…I don’t particularly want to go on having this correspondence any more if it’s going to be like this.”

If Lasdun thought that was going to end the matter, he was wrong. His rejection of Nasreen tipped her into a maniacal rage, and she embarked on a full-scale digital smear campaign against him. She wrote to his literary agent and his higher-ups at the university, accusing him of sexual misconduct and stealing her work; she peppered his pages on Goodreads and Amazon with bad reviews; she masqueraded as him online; she tried to friend his daughter on Facebook. And she kept sending him vile emails, sometimes dozens a day. Repeated trips to the police and the FBI accomplished nothing.

Lasdun’s spellbinding account, Give Me Everything You Have, is elevated by his attempt to understand “what happened…to make my unremarkable existence matter so much to her” by combing through classic literature, looking for analogies in the works of Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare, and Patricia Highsmith. He finds some answers but little comfort. The book fizzles out on an unexpectedly eerie note — there’s no denouement, no arrest. You’re left, like Lasdun himself, with a lingering sense of queasy unease. A-

Memorable Line:

”I couldn’t read, write, play with my kids, listen to the news…without drifting off… into morbid speculations about what new mischief she might be getting up to.”

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