"This story is now shedding light on the experiences of schizophrenics in a language that the non-sufferer can understand."
From WOWK 13 News, W.Va, WV
"Harnisch's sense of the inner machinations of human experience spring into life through the text."
From Editor, Second Alibi: The Banality of Life
"My brain was spinning by the end. It's brilliant."
What...is it like to suffer from...schizophrenia combined with...Tourette's syndrome? ...[Harnisch's] answers to such questions and the ways in which they are portrayed prove complex. Mixing diary entries...with a screenplay...messages are often jumbled though not without merit, [as] when the narrator announces that "I had a paranoid spell last night. [My wife] was texting me, and I was convinced that it was my stepmother impersonating my wife." Wildly varied in style and content, making for an informative and strange trip through the experience of mental disorders.
-- Kirkus Reviews [Print Magazine Featured Book]
Afflicted with schizophrenia, Tourette's Syndrome and other mental illnesses, the prolific and gifted Jonathan Harnisch has transformed the harrowing raw material of his life into what he calls "transgressive fiction" in semi-autobiographical novels such as Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography and Living Colorful Beauty. With Second Alibi: The Banality of Life, he revisits the abrasive, triangular psychodrama of his brilliant, questing psychotic Ben Schreiber, Ben's libertine alter-ego, Georgie Gust, and the sadistic temptress, Claudia Nesbitt, who torments them both, while also including a moving plea for understanding that stands apart from the disturbed fevers of his fiction.
This is a story, I hope, about my coming to enlightenment," Harnisch writes, and in that vein he enlightens us, too, about the fantastic terrors of schizophrenia: "What this life is like with the ups and the downs, the confusion, the love and the hate; the black and the white." He tells us about his moods abruptly shifting 25 times in an hour, his suicide attempts and addictions, the grim realities of sleep deprivation and the fear that his beloved wife has been reading his mind.
Second Alibi toggles unpredictably between semi-coherent rage (Harnisch says he often writes when symptomatic) and cool detachment, and it deploys several forms: Harnisch's sexually-charged fiction (Claudia is "a slow-moving serpent with a tongue of fire and the ass of a bombshell"); a 106-page screenplay featuring dialogues between Ben and his old antagonists, and with his life-saving therapist, "Dr. C"; self-lacerating entries from "Georgie Gust's" 2005 diary, and the author's clear explanations of his condition, apparently written at moments when his symptoms have subsided.
At times, Harnisch is energized by the very power of his illness. "The mind and the sickness is all so sublime," he writes, "the heart of living, colorful beauty." But in his most lucid moments, this brave and eloquent writer struggles mightily to escape the dark woods of madness: "As always, my journey continues, on and on."
-- BlueInk Review
Harnisch's words and images dance vividly and repeat themselves in strange succession; even his most self-conscious writing has rhythmic energy and flair.
Jonathan Harnisch doesn't so much showcase literary genius as he grapples with it in his experimental autobiography, Second Alibi: The Banality of Life. Genius is a creative spirit he chases. When he gets his hands on it, when genius possesses him, the results are stunning. Parts of Second Alibi radiate with originality.
With a self-referential postmodern style reminiscent of William Burroughs, Harnisch chronicles his hell-bent search for personal truth. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders, he explores all aspects of his personality: his alter ego, Ben; his alter ego's alter ego, Georgie; and their mutual love interest, Claudia. Harnisch wrangles to the page episodes of madness and lucidity, hospitalizations, hallucinations, love affairs. He searches every experience for meaning, sometimes exhaustively, and offers up whatever truth he can.
If there's fault in Harnisch's methodology, it's that he overanalyzes and micromanages his own creative process. For example, the book's third act flounders in a sea of platitudinous journal entries about living with mental illness, the writing process, the progress of his manuscript, and his ultimate aspirations as a writer. Although well-intentioned, the entries become preening and laborious. At one point, the author admits, "I feel like I am forcing this writing."
The book's first and second acts are much stronger--the first relayed in stream-of-consciousness passages, and the second in the form of a screenplay. In the first act, Harnisch produces the stuff of poetry. His words and images dance vividly and repeat themselves in strange succession: "The living, colorful sound of the mysterious telephone still haunts us, even me. It rings and rings, again and again." In these passages, even his most self-conscious writing has rhythmic energy and flair: "The sensation of sensational sex and blue movies, the characters and chaos, onslaughts of sketches, prototypes ... of expanding pounding putty and pus, some sex and violence. I'm built for it."
The second act, the screenplay, offers the book's most absorbing and sharply written drama. Harnisch appears to be a natural in the medium, exploring past trauma through scene and dialogue. The screenplay ends with amazing profundity. "And sometimes you just have to listen to the sounds of your life," Ben says. "That kind of silence. That deep remarkable hollow stuff."
Second Alibi provides an honest window into the "hollow stuff." Harnisch is at his best, though, when he leaves his inner critic behind and allows his creativity to color the world around him.