Harnisch’s (Porcelain Utopia, 2016, etc) unconventional work of fiction documents its protagonist’s chronic mental illness.
Benjamin J. Schreiber, recently out of rehab, lives a life of arrant dissipation, lost in a world of alcohol and drugs. He documents his life and obsessions in his journal, The Secret Sex Diaries of Benjamin J Schreiber. Sometimes, Benjamin writes in the first person, other times in the third, describing the frantically lascivious exploits of his alter ego, Georgie. Other times, the narrative unfolds in the form of correspondence between Benjamin and this therapist, nebulously named “Dr. C.” Georgie meets (or, maybe, he conjures) Claudia, a sultry sexpot who becomes his sexual companion, wife, muse, and perpetual source of angst. At one point, they’re married and live in a sprawling mansion; at another, Claudia is his older, French inamorata, and they rob banks together. Harnisch announces in a prefatory note that the book is composed in a nonlinear fashion as a series of Benjamin’s potentially hallucinatory imaginings. However, this note is unnecessary and even condescending, as none of the competing storylines seem plausible enough (or are delivered sedately enough) to be other than fantastical. Also, the prose is, at best, uneven: “ ‘Photograph me, Georgie,’ she whispers. ‘Picture me. Print me. Capture me and keep me in your memory. I just love, love, love pictures. Take more pictures of me. Please, please, please, Georgie-boo-boo!’ ” Eventually, after a tragedy, Georgie desperately attempts to keep his memories alive by constructing a wax museum. The author is to be commended for considerable ambition, as it takes some audacity to thoroughly dispense with the traditional structure of the novel to more palpably represent Benjamin’s profound illness. However, Benjamin is the only character that’s given even a hint of depth, and readers’ only access to him is through his maniacal reveries. The book’s principal defect isn’t merely that it’s hard to follow, but that it’s impossible for readers to care enough to make the effort worthwhile.
An admirably daring account of psychosis, but one that’s too disjointed to sustain interest.