A collection of personal essays exploring the author's experiences battling schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Prolific writer and filmmaker Harnisch (Porcelain Utopia, 2016, etc.) explores his personal struggle with mental disorders in this short collection of autobiographical pieces that he originally wrote for his "online community dedicated to mental health." Throughout his adult life, he writes, he's received myriad diagnoses from doctors, including PTSD, depression, and schizoaffective disorder. His book elucidates the day-to-day activities of a person who suffers from such conditions, and the author mentions frequent communication with therapists, a demanding cigarette addiction, and many sleepless nights. At times, the prose is hard to parse and the content can feel repetitive. However, the author shares some incredible insights into what it's like to suffer from the rarely understood symptoms of schizophrenia. In one essay, for example, he describes his experience of paranoia: "We have become the target of a vast conspiracy stretching on invisible webs....It lives in the telephone wires, the cell towers, the papers, and even online....It nests in the hearts and minds of my family, friends, and loved ones." He also sheds light on what it's like to suffer from delusions: "Symbols, mythology, and connections, even coincidences, take on a very deep and personal meaning, a very deep and personal context." Ultimately, although this work is challenging and heavy, it's also uplifting, as the author never loses hope for recovery; instead, he remains tirelessly optimistic: "I keep moving ahead, as always, knowing deep down inside that I am a good person and that I am worthy of a good life." A courageous, if difficult, self-portrait of one man's suffering, as well as his hope for recovery. — Kirkus Reviews
Living Colorful Beauty is a twisted, intensely character-driven ride. In Living Colorful Beauty, author Jonathan Harnisch tells the story of Ben, a man diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, schizoaffective disorder, and several other issues. Ever since his youth, Ben has been both plagued by mental illness and obsessed with venality. As he navigates through an unstable, directionless life and leaves a string of shattered romances in his wake, he generates a fictional character, Georgie Gust, to deal with his many paraphilias and neuroses. But with the introduction of a new psychotherapist, Ben may have a chance to let go of his doppelgänger as well as his overwhelming insecurity. Though the book is saturated with Ben's sexuality, its prevailing theme is actually his struggle to come to terms with his mental health. The entire book reads like a Freudian therapy session, so the ultimate resolution of Ben's problems is appropriate. Ben's internal creative process is integral to the book's effectiveness, since much of the psychoanalysis Ben receives seems to come from himself through the lens of his fictional creation, Georgie. The book features an almost claustrophobic amount of navel-gazing, which may be intentional. At times, the reading experience leaves no doubt as to how the book's main character could drive himself crazy with his recursive, obsessive self-examination. Ben and Georgie have an interesting and nuanced relationship. At times Ben seems completely unable to control his double while simultaneously being one with him. He often reassures himself that his creation is the inferior man, citing Georgie's pumpkin-like body as the reason that nobody will ever want him. On the other hand, of the two of them, Georgie seems to have the more active love life. Ben reaches for emotional intimacy through relationship after relationship, but his illness, issues with women, and physical demands--the Georgie in him--constantly hamper his progress. As the narrator, Ben's point of view colors all of the other characters. Several of these, in addition to Georgie, are or may be fictional, mere expressions of Ben's illness. This is especially true of the women in Ben's life. There are comparatively very few men in this story, but the women are usually of a seductive and even predatory type. Ben aggressively sizes up the ladies he knows, from his girlfriends to his therapist, in terms of their attractiveness, perhaps in an attempt to balance the scales, since in his own perception, women are domineering copies of his own terrifying mother. Part of Ben's evolution is to move toward a valuing of women beyond his mother issues, a satisfying direction for this character to travel. Living Colorful Beauty is a twisted, intensely character-driven ride that ends on a hopeful note. It may interest fans of Charles Bukowski and Tom Robbins.
Written in the vein of Catcher in the Rye or The World According to Garp, Jonathan Harnisch’s When We Were Invincible is a coming-of-age novella, which details the experiences of outsider Georgie Gust navigating the fictional St. Michael’s Academy, a prestigious East Coast boarding school. Georgie suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and early onset schizophrenia, which makes his journey all the more poignant.
A young man battling extreme mental illness brings his sadomasochistic fantasies to life in Harnisch's (Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia, 2014, etc.) latest novel. As this riveting story opens, Georgie Gust, a suicidal Tourette's syndrome patient, tells his doctor he wants to leave the mental institution where he's been committed. When the doctor puts him off, Gust finds himself buffeted by violent fantasies of escape, and he even prepares to hang himself. The novel plunges readers into the mind of a man at war with his own urges, memories, and sexual obsessions. After a scene shift, Gust's chauffeur, Ben, delivers him to his empty home, where Margaret, his only friend, visits to check on him. However, she annoys him because "she seems to care." Later, Gust, a foot fetishist, gives a pedicure to his sexy neighbor, Claudia, in a scene lit with unexpected poetry and poignancy. As the narrative viewpoint flickers among Gust, Ben, and a quasi-omniscient third-person perspective, Gust's voracious appetite for pain prompts him to hire Claudia to torment him. (He has wealthy parents, so he spends cash liberally.) When Claudia's house goes up in flames, she moves in with him, and their sadomasochistic bond descends into extraordinary, hallucinatory violence. In Claudia's hands, Gust discovers new depths of masochism, and she finds joy in tormenting him. Despite the garishness, brutality, and squalor of many passages (which are not for the squeamish), more sophisticated readers will appreciate the extraordinary feat Harnisch has accomplished. He lucidly, poignantly conveys a mind riven with what are, after all, human vulnerabilities: mental pathologies, shameful fantasies, anguished doubts about the natures of reality, love, and memory. In the hands of a lesser writer, these themes would splinter the narrative. Fortunately, the author masters his material; readers will believe the voices that vivify it and compassionately wish them to find the healing that eludes them. An extraordinary, harrowing odyssey into an embattled self, full of humor, compassion, and a rare understanding of mental illness.