Pastiche, [Audiobook] A Novel By Jonathan Harnisch
Intense and artfully self-centered, this novel wraps around itself in search of release, after which the pleasure is over all too soon. Jonathan Harnisch's Pastiche is an exhaustive and frequently painful catalog of the struggles of the weirdly shy and chronically frustrated character Benny, who struggles to find a way to connect to the outer world. Benny likes latex. He likes to be encased, totally enclosed, and separated from reality by a thin, impermeable layer of rubber. His anxiety is that his membrane of choice, whether it's a prophylactic or a jumpsuit, will suddenly break. Author Jonathan Harnisch, in mega-fictional, maximalist style, spares no detail when it comes to Benny's life. From fellatio to family therapy, every humiliating detail is chronicled in this over-eight-hundred-page novel, which almost seems to take pleasure in its narrator's embarrassment. If there's an envelope to push, the novel pushes it--hard. The book's first sex scene takes place in the living room of Benny's neighbor, Vivienne: "She was a ball of chaos. She was a marriage counselor who'd never been married, a parenting educator who'd never had kids, a rehab counselor who'd never been rehabbed herself." The combination of these two personalities is predictably disastrous. Delightful, though, is the narrative's fine attention to small details: Vivienne's Lucky Charms temporary tattoos, the glow-in-the-dark stars on her bedroom ceiling. Benny is hyper-aware of his condition--his fetish isn't normal, and he knows it--and he has several theories about its origin. He vacillates between blaming others for his difficulty in finding satisfaction and desperately trying to understand what's the matter with him. His personality splits, then re-enjoins itself. Vivienne, grotesquely faithful to the last, is with him for the whole ride. She's "his personal trainer in pain. She has to ensure she gives him that high he craves and satisfy her own perverse longings; all the while she must be certain it's not too much for him right now." Themes of false confidence and amateurs playing at professionalism run through Pastiche, which seems intent on exposing its characters as frauds. Vivienne, so childish in some ways, is forty. Benny's other lovers also exhibit narcissism in the extreme, and are quick to assert their power. Yet it takes mere paragraphs for Benny to suss out their weaknesses, and he is equally quick to exploit them back. After all, what's a sadist without a masochist to torment? As the lowest of the low, the crummiest of the crummy, Benny holds all the cards in every one of these transactional relationships. With Pastiche, Jonathan Harnisch tests the limits of his subject. How far he can push Benny, how long he can draw out each painful scene, is sadomasochistic in the extreme. Pastiche succeeds as an example of art imitating life. Its self-centered intensity keeps it wrapped up in itself, like Benny. When it finds release, the pleasure's over all too soon.
-- Foreword Magazine
The fascinating New Mexico writer Jonathan Harnisch fights a constant battle with schizophrenia, and his work tells of the sleepless, compulsive thought-rushes that mark this tragic disease. "Is writing the end-all cure to my mental maladies?" he asks in one of his touching author-asides. Readers will hope so as they take in this 800+-page swirl through the boiling cauldron of his fears, dark visions and self-doubts, all of it inhabited by characters Harnisch has featured in past books. In Pastiche, Benjamin J. Schreiber reappears as "Ben J. Schaffer," the tormented former prep-school boy who robs a bank with only his cellphone as a weapon, struggles with familial and sexual demons and, like the author, is afflicted with schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome; Ben's imaginary doppelganger, the self-destructive libertine Georgie Gust in other work, is now "George Schaffer"; the conniving siren who's tempted them in earlier books, Claudia Nesbitt, is recast as "Vivienne Babylon," a "lascivious redhead with fiery green eyes." As always, two or three psychiatrists weave in and out of the narrative. Pastiche is an apt title: the story swirls, circles and turns back on itself without apparent design. Harnisch's tangled plots and abrupt shifts of tone can be hard to follow: One moment, an "angel/demon/mother" figure hands Ben a blue-steel .38 and urges him to blow his brains out; later, Harnisch relaxes in the tender ministrations of his loyal wife. Still, to read Harnisch at his raw, unedited, best (the case here) is to witness an event you can't take your eyes, or your mind, from. He commands attention, respect and . . . sympathy. At one point, Harnisch acknowledges the problems his work presents. "Sz (his code for schizophrenia) causes my writing, my blah, blah, blahing to come across as being cryptic," he laments. Even so, readers will appreciate Pastiche as another vivid and compelling example of Harnisch's keen and disordered mind at work, in the throes of schizophrenia, seeking freedom.
-- BlueInk Review
"Be a doer and not a critic," Tony Blair once said. Pastiche, it is, in response to the heavily criticized and controversial author Jonathan Harnisch's (Porcelain Utopia, 2016, etc.) work and life. He offers this colossal work of erotic literary art that mixes styles, materials, etc., wildly varied in style and content. "I am a troubled man," the author confesses, "with feelings. I am not good, but I know how to be good. I burn bridges and build better ones. I can’t make my mind up because my mental landscape is full of wondrous things! I can love, and I am learning to be in love with myself. I don't know how to trust, but I trust I am alive. I make more mistakes than I should so I am continually learning. I am always sorry, and I always forgive myself. I never change and yet I feel changes. I am afraid of letting anyone else in my life too close and yet I find I'm not running away because I am curious. The door to my life is open because I am genuine and authentic and real. People will come and go, and I am blessed that I have known them. The door is too big for it to be blocked by anything that wants to flow free, and the current of life that goes through it pulls with it all its uncertainty." Pastiche is one of the most disconnected, confused intentionally unedited literary masterpieces of independent writer Harnisch's untamed career, exploring its readers to the flighty, turbulent and often disturbing schizophrenic thought patterns, which the disorder presents. The author also struggles with schizophrenia. “I don't think writing is therapeutic. It's real hard for me. It's not an enjoyable process,” Harnisch admits.