Wildly varied in style and content, making for an informative and strange trip through the experience of mental disorders.

SECOND ALIBI: THE BANALITY OF LIFE

A semiautobiographical exploration of mental illness from Harnisch (An Alibiography, 2014).

With conditions ranging from tobacco addiction to schizophrenia, this mixture of personal reflections, fictional characters and a portion of a screenplay investigates what makes the mentally ill tick. Writing at times as his fictional protagonist Ben Schreiber, other times as Ben’s alter ego, Georgie Gust, and occasionally as himself, the author takes readers on a journey involving troubled young men with troubled young minds. The narrators—including, in various narrative formats, the psychologist Dr. C; Claudia, the seductive neighbor; and an older, supportive wife named Kelly—grapple with their psychological problems for the benefit of the reader. What, the reader may wonder, is it like to suffer from the hallucinations of schizophrenia combined with the tics of Tourette’s syndrome? As the author asks, “What do you do when people assume your truths are delusions?” The answers to such questions and the ways in which they are portrayed prove complex. Mixing diary entries concerning the daily struggles of the fictional Georgie with a screenplay detailing past abuses of the fictional Ben, messages are often jumbled though not without merit. For instance, when the narrator announces that “I had a paranoid spell last night. [My wife] was texting me, and I was convinced that it was my stepmother impersonating my wife,” the sting of schizophrenic paranoia is made real. As the author says: “Of course my life would be easier without schizophrenia—sure I wish I didn’t have this condition.” Occasional statements prove less than informative—“Sometimes I’m more productive than at other times”—and throughout the book, even the most careful of readers are likely to feel some confusion navigating scenes including a sexually abusive grandmother and chapter endings such as “Georgie places the letter in his messy desk’s drawer and walks out with a winter coat on and the whole scene changes completely.” Whether all such elements come together to form a memorable impression of illness or merely a collection of fragmented stories depends greatly on the reader’s willingness to follow along on the path provided, no matter how many twists and dead ends are on the way.

Wildly varied in style and content, making for an informative and strange trip through the experience of mental disorders.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500482015

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Babydude Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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