An Underachiever's Diary

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-07-28
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
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Meet William, a devout underachiever. He enters life as the firstborn of identical twin boys. It is the last time he will beat his overachieving brother Clive, or anyone else for that matter, at anything. This is William's manifesto for the underachiever. It is the chronicle of a lifetime of failurepart diary and part handbook for self-defeat. At once corrosively funny and surprisingly tender,An Underachiever's Diaryis a classic tale of perverse perseverance.

Author Biography

Benjamin Anastas is the author of The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor's Disappearance. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Men's Vogue, and GQ.


The Early Years

Istarted strong, the firstborn of identical twin boys, leading my reluctant brother out into the world by seven minutes flat, give or take a moment to suspend my infant’s disbelief in the delivery room. By the time he finally emerged, feetfirst, tangled in his umbilical cord and placid in the obstetrician’s forceps, I had already taken my welcome smack, wailed my way into the human race, while sure hands cut my own cord, wiped me down, and bundled me in swaddling clothes. I had a name: William, chosen by my father, who had coveted it for himself since childhood. In the turmoil of the coming years my parents would consider changing my name to Guillaume, in honor of the student protests in Paris (this was 1968), and later, after a trip to Mexico, where they toured the countryside in search of armed insurrectionists and returned with the perfect dining- room set, they toyed with calling me Guillermo. My parents were still in their Anglophilic stage when we were born, and chose a fitting name for my brother: Clive. Clive narrowly escaped becoming Claude—they were, at least, consistent—and Chico. 

In their fondest dreams, then, the universe was ruled over by the Warren Supreme Court, and following the precedent ofBrownv.Board of Education(1954), they believed their children would be guaranteed an equal opportunity to grow and thrive. The recentGideonv. Wainwright(1963) ruling held that, no matter how helpless or indigent, we would always have a voice in family matters. We endured no cutesy nicknames in our formative years, and wore no matching clothes. We would be ordinary brothers, they believed, just closer, and the fact that we were twins would neither limit our development nor provide unfair advantage over the silent, solitary majority. They took smug satisfaction, however, in a line from Dr. Spock’sBaby and Child Care, which my pregnant mother had underlined in their well- thumbed paperback edition: “Twins . . . develop special strength of personality from being twins: early independence of parental attention, unusual capacity for cooperative play, great loyalty and generosity toward each other.” In other words, they had high hopes for us.

What’s it like to be a twin? I shared wombtime with someone else, which might explain my love of open spaces, and my tendency to live in cramped ones (more on this trend later). Unlike many other people I have no problem spending hours on end—even days in succession— by myself. Sometimes I think I can remember what it was like to be in utero, locked inside my mother’s swampy trunk, nothing to do but listen to the outside world, grow, and wait for birth, my brother there beside me like a shadow, an explanation for the darkness that would so soon come to light; I reached for life and swam, elbowed my way past him to the delivery room, only to be confused by what I found there. Why so many faces? Who turned on the bright lights? My first cry must have given voice to more than shock, or fear, or a newborn’s mad confusion; perhaps to careful ears there was also a hint of sadness over what I’d left behind, and a contradictory delight; after all, I had abandoned the comforts of our sleepy home, the prodigal son, born into all the love and expectations of real life. 

And then I met my counterpart, my mirror image, my five- pound- eight- ounce secret sharer. In my imagination our first moments of consciousness loom large: both swaddled now, we rest in our mother’s arms, and I stare at this pretender to my title

Excerpted from An Underachiever's Diary: A Novel by Benjamin Anastas
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