Harnisch (The Oxygen Tank, 2016, etc.) offers a novel about the complicated world of a mentally ill mind.
Benjamin J. Schreiber, who suffers from a range of psychiatric disorders, finds himself in court-mandated therapy with Dr. C. “It was either therapy or prison,” Dr. C tells readers, following an incident in which Ben acted oddly at a so-called “non-cash bank.” Ben then embarks on a journey to investigate his troubled world. Using writing as a release and Dr. C as a guide, Ben explores the realm of his alter ego, one “Georgie Gust,” detailing their intertwined lives. The murkiness of their relationship is summed up by Ben’s insistence that he will often “send [Georgie] gifts and then keep them for myself.” As a result, the novel puts into play the ambiguity of reality. The concept of fractured identities is at the heart of this adventure that encompasses a visit to a foot-fetish club and family recollections: “Life with mother was always borderline this, crisis-after-crisis that.” In other words, it’s an adventure that’s as scattered as the disorders it portrays. It throws in a generous collection of literary devices, including diary entries, parenthetical pet peeves (“Backs always itch where and when I can’t reach to scratch”), and the controlling character of Claudia Nesbitt, who engages in various, unusual sexual activities. If it all sounds disorienting, that would seem to be the author’s intention. Readers intrigued by such a swerving tale can expect to encounter all manner of kookiness and, ultimately, honesty; as one journal entry insists, “I let my freak flag shine with my mentally ill mind and unsurpassed resiliency.” That said, the novel is occasionally repetitive (the terms “schizophrenia” and “schizophrenic” appear with enough frequency to lose their meaning) and unapologetically crude (“Her vagina looked so lonely”), so it’s certainly not a story for the squeamish or those seeking more conventional constructions.
A scattered account of a scatterbrained life with all manner of depravity and, underneath it all, earnestness.