A surrealistic psychological novel about one man’s struggle to know his own mind.
The latest work from Harnisch (Living with Serious Mental Illness and Physical Disabilities, 2016, etc.) details the story of a man named Ben, a writer and long-term mental patient who’s been through the psychiatric treatment mill for a significant chunk of his life. He’s had a wide variety of diagnoses, from schizoaffective disorder to Tourette’s syndrome, and he’s been in torrid, mostly unhealthy relationships with a variety of women, including the domineering, alluring Claudia Nesbitt, with whom he’s obsessed. Ben’s accounts of his thoughts and adventures ripple with writerly affect; he’s constantly aware of his own way with words, and he holds his talent in high regard: “I’ll stick a lotta non sequiturs and utilize some wit in crafting the individual sentences,” he writes, “and who knows, they might even border on brilliant.” The key figure in his accounts is Georgie, his alter ego and repository of many of his strongest, most troubling urges. “Georgie comes and goes,” he writes, “but he’s always been a part of me.” Indeed, he’s an invented lightning rod for some of the impulses he’s trying to control. The bulk of Harnisch’s novel deals in a picaresque, roundabout way with Ben’s efforts to come to grips with his own mental state. Ben’s life is filled with sex and drugs, and the author describes these elements with an unvarnished directness that some readers will find unnerving and perhaps distasteful (the sex-related language, in particular, is quite explicit). But that same feral directness is part of the point of the narrative, as it underscores Ben’s intense grappling with the chaos inside and outside his head. Some of Harnisch’s storytelling devices work better than others—the narrative’s rapid time shifts are particularly jarring—but the book as a whole is compelling.
A bluntly honest psychosexual odyssey.