Author Jonathan Harnisch often writes about alter egos who live with the same mental disorders that he does, including schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome. The protagonist of this coming- of-age novel is Georgie Gust, a character who has appeared in the author's previous novels as a sexual fetishist and even another character's alter ego. For readers who may have explored other Harnisch novels, it's best to think of Georgie as the blank canvas on which the author hangs his tales and not try to unify Georgie's mythology. Here, Georgie appears as an angry young man in the mold of Salinger's Holden Caulfield. He's been banished by his alcoholic mother to a boarding school in Connecticut and we meet him during a suicidal episode in a graveyard. Georgie experiences his mental illness as a literal monkey on his back; he is also dangerously self-medicating. The prose is as electrifying as it is terrifying. "Out of the wild jungle one day, rejoining me in full costume, the horn-headed monkey returns to its residence in me," Georgie says. "This time, it was going to try and kill me, the son- of-a-bitch." The majority of the novel concerns Georgie's relationship with classmate Claudia Nesbitt, and hijinks with his buddy "Fitzie." Georgie has thoughtful debates with his Catholic girlfriend about the nature of God and she encourages him to embrace his mental illness, even as his self- destructive nature threatens to destroy him. Much like the title character in Good Will Hunting, Georgie's redemption is somewhat expedient, but the character's voice is utterly compelling and Harnisch inhabits his troubled young hero with compassion and grace. A bittersweet postscript finds Georgie still struggling but determined to triumph: "The consciousness of life is higher than life, and the knowledge of happiness is higher than happiness," he notes. "And, that's what we have to fight against. I'll continue from now on to fight." The author's authenticity no doubt comes at great personal cost, but his writing is elevated by his personal experience. This story deserves an admiring audience.
BEN SCHREIBER suffers from a range of physical and psychiatric disorders, ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to narcissism, borderline personality, and schizoaffective disorder. He is hospitalized after a drug-crazed attempt at a bank robbery and is now under the care of Dr C, a female psychiatrist. Ben has little faith that psychiatric medicine will help him rid his mind of the delusions and hallucinations that his disorder presents, as it has done little for him thus far. He also knows that Dr C will not be treating him alone: He must introduce her to the cast of characters that share his brain, including Ben’s alter ego, GEORGIE GUST. Ben/Georgie are not classic “split” personalities: Georgie is a hallucination that springs from Ben’s disease and physically shares Ben’s life, making his symptoms even worse. Dr. C begins to suspect that Ben draws upon Georgie to help him avoid the bad memories that he has suppressed for his entire life and that underlie his post-traumatic stress and anxiety. She must try to get Ben to explore his relationship with Georgie, and the sexual fetishes that are triggered by CLAUDIA NESBITT, Georgie’s highly sexual and manipulative girlfriend, so that Ben can become once again the loving person he once was. She encourages Ben to talk about Georgie and Claudia in their sessions, and more importantly, to write about them as therapy. Ben discovers that writing gives him increasing freedom from the obsessive invasion of his thoughts by Georgie and Claudia and from his dreadful past memories that Dr C slowly uncovers. He begins to hope that converting Georgie to a literary character in the pages of an autobiographical novel will slowly remove him, along with Claudia, from Ben’s mind forever.
This is the story of John Marshall, an ambitious and troubled young man determined to climb to the top of New York high society while spreading chaos and misery in his wake. Raised in a household of drunken abuse, John has little hope of anything but a factory job. Then he has an intimate encounter with an enticing woman who gets everything she wants through seduction—and the experience changes John’s life. Stoking his hatred of the rich and powerful, he finds work in the homes of the wealthy as a private tutor, all the while seeking to win the love of their wives and daughters. The series of encounters that ensues builds to a storm of consequences as John strives for his envisioned future while racing to keep ahead of the past. Of Crime and Passion is a story of greed, lust, and the cost of getting ahead by any means.
Ben Schreiber knew Wakefield Academy would be a disaster before he even arrived. It would be the same as his last school--the taunting, the judgment, the panic at being an all-too-obvious schizophrenic in a crowd of teenage brats hungry for a target. His fears are confirmed the moment he steps out of his parent's rusty car to the mocking sneers of his posh classmates. So what does Ben do? He retreats into himself, allowing the second being within his body to rise to consciousness--Georgie Gust, an angry, resentful, Tourette's-ridden personality, suspicious of everyone and trusting of none. Georgie navigates Wakefield campus within the smog of self-hate. He hates how his body twitches and his words betray him, hates how his odd walk brings cruel laughter, hates the stares that follow him when he tries to disappear. Georgie quickly attracts a crowd of tormenters lead by a cocky lacrosse player, Ozer. It's Claudia, however--Ozer's beautiful and troubled girlfriend--who captures Georgie's attention. Claudia alone does not join in with her friends' jeers, choosing instead to come to Georgie in friendship, her own demons lurking just beneath skin's surface. Though Georgie fights to believe no one can ever understand him, Claudia does. She is there when he drinks himself into a stupor every night and shows up for class hungover; she is there when he is harassed and beaten by their peers; she is there when his academic brilliance begins to gleam, nurtured by the support of the philosophy professor, Heidi. It is for fear of hurting Claudia that Georgie begins to care for himself; he stops drinking, throws out his cigarettes, and devotes himself to the pursuit of a prestigious scholarship. But nothing is ever so easy. As Georgie begins to heal beneath Claudia's warmth, he fails to see her own troubles. For how could someone so beautiful, smart, and well-liked know what suffering is? Surely, her problems run only so deep as her cheating boyfriend and exam stress. It is Heidi, the philosophy professor, who calls Georgie out on his selfishness. On the edge of a cliff, Heidi accuses Georgie of choosing hatred and isolation, of rejecting the love of others because hate is easier than accountability. Georgie both wants to be loved and desperately fears it. Georgie's defenses, while justified, are selfish ones, and they lead him to miss the warning signs in the one person he loves. One morning Claudia is gone, and it is Georgie who finds her broken body twisted in a tree on that same cliff where Heidi scolded him. So selfishly had he thought he was the only one with illness; she had understood him better than he ever knew. Claudia's death both destroys and saves him. It is for her that Georgie chooses to use his illness rather than hate it; for her, that he laughs at his absurdities instead of fall victim to them; for her that he opens his life and ultimately wins the scholarship. In the end, it is what Georgie thought impossible that leads him out of the darkness: acceptance. If only he'd recognized it before she chose to die.