Review of "Electroboy"

By Andy Behrman
Random House, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Mar 23rd 2002
ElectroboyThere have not been many memoirs of mania, so Electroboy is a welcome addition to the form. Andy Behrman tells his story well, and his mania has ensured that he has an interesting story to tell. Prior to receiving medication, Behrman lived a fast exotic high-expense life full of drugs, drink, exclusive restaurants, promiscuous sex, working as a publicist for best-selling authors and as an art dealer. He reached the height of his notoriety when he was tried for fraudulently selling art by the artist Mark Kostabi, which was particularly ironic since Kostabi boasted that he never painted his own works, but employed other artists at minimum wage to paint them for him. Behrman's defense rested on the idea that since Kostabi got others to paint his paintings and even sign his name, it was impossible for there to be any such thing as a Kostabi forgery.

Behrman was found guilty, and his many friends and family submitted testimonials to his good character. It's a strange moment in the book, because although these documents show him to be an extraordinarily kind, caring, and good person, he is not able to convey these qualities in his own writing. Instead, he comes across as narcissistic, self-indulgent, duplicitous, and avaricious. Of course, it might be well be that his mania was responsible for his morally reprehensible actions, but if this is so, then he gives the reader very little sense of what his healthy non-manic character is like. The book jacket tells us that Behrman currently lives mania-free, but it is very hard to imagine what his life is now like.

Nevertheless, Electroboy is entertaining and manages to convey some understanding of the wildness of thought, emotion, and action that characterizes mania. It also gives a sense of the ways that medications take over for people with severe mental disorders. At the end of the book, Behrman is taking Depakote, Risperdal, Symmetrel, Topamax, Klonopin, BuSpar, Propranolol, Benadryl and Ambien every day. Throughout the book he recounts the many other medications he has taken, the long courses of electroshock treatment he has taken, and the many psychotherapists he has seen. Although treatment often provides temporary help, his experience does not provide strong reason to think that any particular combination of pills and other treatments can establish his mental health permanently. Behrman's book is a testament to both the power and limitations of current psychiatric knowledge.

Author website:

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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