Jonathan Harnisch has proclaimed himself the King of Mental Illness. A schizophrenic with Tourette's, he often feels like a twisted character treading in an otherwise ordinary world. It comes as both a shock and a familiar feeling, then, when he discovers that a friend and fellow author has written him into her book. Seeking to displace the perhaps one-dimensional image created of him, Harnisch sets out to write his own account of the characters that have ruled his life—bare, raw, and endlessly revealing. Glad You're Not Me is a rarely seen, shocking account of living with schizophrenia. Written in chaotic vignettes that resonate to the same frequency as William Burrough's Naked Lunch, the pages leap from bitter honesty to barbed defenses to deeply disturbing pornographic fantasy. Harnisch's disturbed, arrogant, and brutally authentic voice is unapologetic in its obscenities and dangerous desires, for mental illness comes with no filter—it is dark, it is troubling, it leads its audience into confusing places. To censor the words within this book would strip it of its integrity, for the reader must see, however horrible, the truth of illnesses of the mind.
Harnisch (Freak, 2016, etc.) presents a semiautobiographical book of meditations on mental illness and the world at large. The author explains in an introduction that his book is "an intentionally non-linear, plotless narrative that reflects the chaotic structure of Jonathan Harnisch's mind." And, as the contents make evident, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a more apt description. The 21 short chapters feature titles ranging from the raunchy "Ode to Granny the Tranny: Nurse Natalie" to the more perplexing "I am a Responsive Santa on Steroids." The book was written, to some extent, as a response to Myriam Gurba's 2011 book Wish You Were Me, and it offers a loose foray into Harnisch's thinking that's full of singsong prose ("Maybe at a museum. At the MOMA--The motherfucking Museum of Modern Art"). Topics include schizophrenia and a lost connection with actor Mel Gibson: "He and I have built memories together, just memories, and the resurrection of reconnecting. We haven't been in touch since 2005 or 2006." There's also a graphic love rant ("I'm sick over you. I want to throw up all my love on you") and a note on personal endurance ("my resilience emanates from the greatest lesson I've learned: laughter"). This book is every bit as free-wheeling as the introduction implies, providing a glimpse at its author's inner workings--both in its flights of fancy and in its more earnest sentiments. It's in the tradition of such other autobiographical writers as Kathy Acker (described herein as the author's "fantasy date"), and it provides a light skim across the waters of a self-described "mentally ill artist" who's not all too keen on how readers will feel about any of it: "Wander the reader astray, do not attempt to care for the reader, kill the reader." Overall, it's an assuredly brief collage of varied, unabashedly unpolished feelings. An untethered collection of one man's thoughts that introduces readers to the possibilities of chapbook-style constructions.
-- Kirkus Reviews
This provocative new work from a writer who revels in exploring the darker sides of the mind creates an unforgettable experience. In his latest work, Glad You're Not Me, controversial writer Jonathan Harnisch follows his most primal instincts into a literary jungle of lust, violence, and moral paradox. The book's graphic and sensational imagery creates a disturbing and unforgettable experience. Harnisch is a schizophrenic who explores his own mental illness through writing and art. Glad You're Not Me can be characterized as a work of transgressive fiction and is heavily autobiographical. In contrast to therapeutic or reformist ways of thinking, transgressive writing seeks moral and psychological truths by crossing boundaries, violating social mores, and subverting status-quo values. Harnisch's narrator revels in this task: "Wander the reader astray, do not attempt to care for the reader, kill the reader." The book's preliminary "contract" promises to engage in "normal, healthy, positive, nonviolent, and consensual" erotic content. The statement rings with irony, leaving questions of what is normal and healthy behavior and who decides. As if to break this initial contract, a subsequent chapter, "Ode to Granny the Tranny: Nurse Natalie," unleashes a profusion of violent sexual imagery. Perversely lyrical, the chapter demonstrates how the death instinct, the desire for self-annihilation, can lead to intense experiences of love. "Cremate me and eat my ashes," demands the narrator. Lovers consume each other until the anarchic experience of sexuality has obliterated all confines of personality. This intensity, however, comes in fits and starts. Many passages in between are insipid. For instance, correspondence with a writing friend is serialized in several chapters, some entries as scant as three lines. The narrator also obsesses about celebrity and prestige. He calls his own writing "some of the most original and thought-provoking of modern day." Whether viewed as self-parody or self-importance, the aggrandizing detracts from the more interesting and humanizing aspects of the nonlinear narrative. Harnisch succeeds most as a writer when he uncovers honest insights about the ego. "We narcissists tend to have low or no self-esteem," the narrator says at the end of "Never Follow an Outline." In "Queer Theory/Why I Write," he talks about trying to "seduce" the reader: "Try to. Fail with glorious misery." This failure, though, leads to a keener sense of humanity: "We all have hearts. They just seem to go astray for a while." Glad You're Not Me raises more questions than it answers. To call it a provocative work would be an understatement. Its entire purpose is to provoke. For readers who can handle the darker side of human experience, it may prove a worthwhile read.
-- Foreword Clarion Reviews
With Glad You're Not Me, essayist and novelist Jonathan Harnisch offers a short entry in the ongoing, semi-autobiographical work that has characterized his writing. The author is open about suffering from several mental disorders, including schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome, and his raw experience enhances and informs his work. Here, he seems to appear as a version of himself, which he calls "Harnisch the writer"-- although he also emerges as a different sort of enigma in the personality he dubs, "The Mentally Ill Artist." This rather funny, self-admitted narcissist presents what seems to be a distorted mirror image to a fictionalized version of Harnisch rendered in real life-writer Myriam Gurba's chapbook Wish You Were Me. Harnisch refers to Gurba's book repeatedly, and notes that his book is his direct response to the chapbook he calls "...pioneering with all its weird and unexplored thought patterns." In this book, Harnisch spills out his thoughts in 21 snapshots of varying lengths and subjects. Sometimes his writing can be quite poetic. In explaining why he writes, Harnisch says, "My goal: to attain an ounce, a moment of seemingly impossible peace of mind, through complete honesty and self-love, by any means necessary." Sometimes he muses on his own character as a human being. Other passages are grotesque depictions of deviant sexuality often involving transsexuals. And sometimes, he's letting us in on his ironic sense of humor, if subtly. "Envision a blend of a mentally ill mind with unsurpassed resilience and fiery intellect and your result would be the brilliant me," Harnisch writes. These passages vary in quality: Text messages between Harnisch and Gurba are rather pedestrian compared to the author's thoughts on time travel or the creative spirit, but there's no denying his unique voice. Is he paying homage to Gurba for her portrayal of him in her chapbook? Probably. Is he also playing with his readers and their implied perception of his art and his illness? Definitely. Whatever the intent, his talent is undeniable, even if this may be a bit too pointed of an entry into his byzantine mindset. New readers might be better served starting with his larger saga, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography.
-- BlueInk Review