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On Being Stalked

by James Lasdun

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-21907-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The story of a 30-something college student who employed an array of digital weapons to attack her writing professor, who loved her writing but rejected her amorous advances.

In a tale that sometimes seems more like a script for a horror film, novelist and short story writer Lasdun (It’s Beginning to Hurt, 2009, etc.) approaches his subject from a variety of perspectives. First, he provides a brisk narrative of the principal events: In the fall of 2003, he was a part-time teacher at a New York college (he changed the name); he greatly encouraged one of his students, an Iranian immigrant he calls Nasreen; after the course was over, they became email correspondents, and he helped her look for an agent and a publisher for her work; when her interest became more romantic, he backed off. And with her continued harassment, his hellish life commenced. Lasdun then pauses, returns to think about the classroom situation and to ask himself what he’d done—or not done—that might have contributed to this grievous misunderstanding. He looks for analogies (and solace) in literary works—among them Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which he summarizes at great length about a third of the way through, Macbeth, Strangers on a Train and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Penitent. Nasreen’s emails grew ever more crude and threatening (the author reproduces many of them), so Lasdun tried the FBI and the NYPD but with no real success. She posted vicious material on Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia; she wrote to all of his publishers and to the institutions where he’d worked, accusing him of having sex with his students and stealing her material—even engineering her rape. She also forwarded in his name obnoxious and noxious material. A later section deals with Lasdun’s explorations of family roots and anti-Semitism.

A horrifying cautionary tale that reveals the vast dimensions of our vulnerability in the cyber age.