AN UNDERACHIEVER’S DIARY by Benjamin Anastas
â€śAs I have said before, the underachieverâ€™s life is a lonely one, devoid of sustaining warmth, and fundamental intimacy; this statelessness, if you will, can be the source of boundless happiness, a kind of transcendental bliss known only to the deepest American thinker (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Tony Robins)â€¦â€ť
Review by Doug Bruns (AUG 30, 2009)
Imagine that you are intelligent, witty, perhaps not particularly good looking, that you are graced with extraordinary powers of introspection and observation; that you wield a too-often self-deprecating humor, that you were well loved growing up, watched over and enjoyed a good education. Perhaps this is not a stretch for some. Now, fancy too that you are one-half of twin brothers, born a few minutes apart (youâ€™re older, you win that, at least) and that your brother, whom you love and who loves you as only a twin can, despite the obvious sameness, is anything but. Your brother is better at everything than you are, an observation you first made in utero. Your self-fulfilling conclusion? You are destined to a life of underachievement.
That is the premise to Benjamin Anastasâ€™s hilarious debut novel, first published to great critical acclaim in 1998 and now issued as a Dial Press Trade Paperback. But why should I explain? Our underachiever, William, is much funnier:
â€śI am proud to be a disappointment to almost everybody. Lend me money, and I will never pay you back. Fall in love with me, and I will fail to acknowledge you. Save your compassion for someone who really needs it, I am well engaged, trying to be my own worst enemy. I would call this my manifesto, or autobiography, but that would mean I have an ideal audience in mind.
â€śCall it a diary.â€ť
This slim little book (144 pages) recording Williamâ€™s â€śpredisposition to outright failureâ€ť is funny and quick and even a bit heartbreaking. The irony is deep and well mined. Williamâ€™s saving grace is his imagination and with it he holds court, albeit there are no witnesses present, this being a â€śdiary,â€ť afterall. â€śWith this diary I have tried to come to terms with my imperfect nature as quietly as one can, and still speak of it, without confusing my peculiar quirks with virtue, and proclaiming them aloud for everyone to hear, as if I were something more than what I am, an underachiever.â€ť
And that is the spectacular irony at work here. With his attempt to quietly come to terms with the controlled failure of his life, he shouts it aloud amidst a culture of heroic achievement. It is as if Updike, or better, Roth, had worshipped at the alter of Salinger, and produced a bitterly funny, yet true gospel of life.
The book is divided into three sections, entitled The Early Years, Latency and Adolescence, and Adulthood for Beginners. His trials and tribulations are well chronicled and the voice, as it matures grows steadier and, ironically, more assured. There is no escaping the path of the underachiever and William, coming to grips with that reality, shares with the reader a tender coming-of-age narration that is fine tuned and hard wrought.
Benjamin Anastas is the author of The Faithful Narrative of a Pastorâ€™s Disappearance. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Menâ€™s Vogue, and GQ.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 31 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||An Underachiever’s Diary|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Benjamin Anastas|
Beatrice interview with Benjamin Anastas
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||A modern “diary” book:
Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett
More uses of the “diary:”
Diary by Chuck Palahuniak
Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
- An Underachiever’s Diary (1998; 2009)
- The Faithful Narrative of a Pastorâ€™s Disappearance (2001)