An Underachiever’s Diary: Benjamin Anastas (1999)


by The Great White Gypsy


This is a short book about the older of two identical twins. William is just as intelligent as his brother, Clive, but doesn’t apply himself, or go through the standard Freudian stages of childhood with the same speed and grace as his twin. His parents are pop-developmental psychology followers, and Republican haters. The narrative follows William from birth, through childhood, adolescence, and the beginning of adulthood. From his young refusal to succumb to physical temptation, to an all boys boarding school, and off to San Francisco to join a lazy, neo-hippie cult. The whole time being told by his friends, parents, and brother that he’s not reaching his full potential.
Anastas’ run on sentences are, at times, distracting and out of character for the narrator. They display a hectic, pensive attitude that is not actually exuded by William. Maybe it was meant to be frustrating that, in a book about an underachiever, the character doesn’t seem fully realized, the plot seems meandering and incomplete, and the development a little off. The narrator maintains several times that the book is not a memoir, or a biography; it’s his diary because he’s not writing for other people. But he continuously reminds us that we’re reading his “diary”, instead of letting it be an honest personal notation on life.
That isn’t to say the book is bad; at a lean 147 pages, it’s an easy, fluid read with several moments of genuine wit and brilliance in the prose. I just think he could have been a little more linear (while talking about his infancy, he repeatedly references college), and a lot more rounded out. If you’re a fan of Frederick Exley, you will probably enjoy this one.

Also by Benjamin Anastas:
The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance (2001)

Suggested Readings:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000)

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