A fragmented debut novel about life lived under a fog of schizophrenia from author Harnisch.
Benjamin J. Schreiber has a number of problems, not the least of which being that he tried to rob a bank with a cellphone. Mentally ill, though protected by a powerful father and a trust fund, Ben finds himself in therapy instead of jail. While in therapy, Ben explores his alter ego, a masochist named Georgie Gust. Much like Ben, Georgie depends on wealthy parents; a state of affairs that he uses to explore all types of humiliation and kinky sex. After Georgie hires a neighbor named Claudia to torture him in new and inventive ways, he succumbs to a type of twisted love only his peculiar mind and circumstances could produce. Book Two drifts back in time and finds a high school-aged Georgie attending a prestigious private school in New England. Afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, Georgie has a hard time making friends. When Claudia, the girlfriend of a popular lacrosse player, takes an interest in him, it naturally causes problems. Following chapters become yet more disordered, with names and afflictions repeated, though the circumstances tend to vary. It’s 1987, and the reader sees Ben’s suburban New York family home being remodeled while his unhappy mother goes about her private demise. Later Georgie marries a woman named Clio, though he longs for a waitress named Claudia. At one point, Jonathan Harnisch introduces himself as a mentally ill artist in a string of beat-like sentences: “Thoughts. Thoughts bombard my head, my brain. My psyche.” What is the reader to make of these worlds of obsessions, disorders and well-to-do young men? Those looking for an anchor in this swirling sea will have difficulty finding one. Taken as a fictionalized account of a disparate mind, the book succeeds—although not without moments of melodrama and repetition. Claudia and Georgie’s teenage relationship often proves no more exciting than an after-school TV special, but at another point in the book, when the torturer-for-hire Claudia must find new levels of debasement to explore, Georgie’s pain is very real and not for the faint of heart.
As complex as the disorder it seeks to explore; makes for a frequently disquieting read.