an underachiever’s diary
by Benjamin Anastas
What caught my attention with this book was that it seemed to have been placed backwards on the shelf. It turns out, however, that the book just flaunts a blank white cover, sans the title and author’s name in tiny writing on the bottom, and a quote from the NY Times Book Review comparing it to Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes on top. Piquing my interests, I turned this tiny pristine piece of fiction over to reveal a two-sentence summary of the book, written out in lower-case letters along with the minuscule text on the front. I quickly ran to the counter and purchased it.
The book is pure prose, with no regard to grammar given whatsoever. It’s a first-person presentation of the life of William, an unfortunate soul to the likes of that girl from Welcome to the Dollhouse , who has grown up to suffer through and come to terms with his station in life. William takes us from birth, where he miraculously beat his twin brother out of the womb (which he claims, with absolute truth, to be the only time he’s been first at anything), through his adolescence, and into his current position as a thirty-something. Omitting much but hinting at everything, his chain of failures are all portrayed not under the guise of pity-searching, but more to further what he’s come to accept as his purpose in life: to be the underachiever.
But despite the solemn premise, an underachiever’s diary is so clever and ironic that you can’t help but laugh at it all. Never once does William ask for sympathy from his readers, nor does he expect it. Instead, he gives us a true insight — often quite funny — into the mind of one whose luck in life never seems to surface. In fact, he goes so far as to purposely fail just to keep with where he feels he should be. This isn’t just a book with no depth, however. His lusts and loves are real, his hippie parents make for a great commentary on the ’60s, and some of his feelings and desires are so well-described that even the grandest overachiever can somewhat connect with him.
This is Benjamin Anastas’s first book, and I will forever be first in line for any more he comes out with. Although the book maintains that it’s fiction, everything seems so real that it’s hard to believe this is anything past an autobiography. But then, that’s the beauty of this book — that sometimes it seems like a diary of the reader themselves.
Spike Books, , , ; http://www.spikebooks.com