Thursday Jun 02, 2016

The Finale of Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia by Jonathan Harnisch

"Let's get the facts straight up front, to avoid any confusion later," the author states at the start of this wild, candid book. "I am a person first, a human being, just like anyone else. Maybe a little different, that's all." That difference is a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and this extensive work explores the realities of mental illness through a whirlwind of fictional, narrative pieces and personal reflections. Along the way, it takes readers to places of depravity and confusion. Its characters include Ben Schreiber, a precocious but mentally ill youngster in Armani jeans, who explains his troubled life to the ever-calm Dr. C, after trying to rob a bank with a cellphone. Schreiber discusses his alter ego, Georgie Gust, a masochist and foot-fetishist, who's wealthy enough to pay his neighbor Claudia to torture him; indeed, he seems capable of enduring any type of humiliation, so long as it doesn't involve actually working. The first-person narrator regularly interrupts the proceedings to offer generally off-topic details: "(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) Commercials for unappetizing products shown at meal times...feminine hygiene products, jock itch, yeast infections, etc." The scattered narrative uses diverse literary mechanisms, to say the least, mixing elements such as journal entries, a screenplay, a straightforward melodrama involving a Tourette's sufferer at a private school, occasional celebrity name-dropping ("I met Joanna Cassidy, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Downey Jr, Mel Gibson, and others"), and a dapper figure named John Marshal, who, when asked his opinion of a party, responds, "I'd scarcely be a good judge of that.... My life is taken up with writing." Making sense of it all in any traditional way, it would seem, isn't really the point. From horrific scenes of child abuse ("She did. She raped me. My grandmother") to glimpses of triumph ("I can start taking control of my life"), this long book's many scenes of anguish and hope are difficult to take in, by any estimation. Whether readers will find the difficulty worthwhile depends largely on their tolerance for twisted tales. 

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