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“I would be proud of myself if I ever underachieved so brilliantly.” —Ann Beattie
"The book's veils of irony are light enough to charm even the coolest reader, and its emotional details, particularly those of William's bond with his faultless brother, ring true."—The New Yorker
"Fantastic...A fun, funny book."—Detroit Free Press
“Very funny . . . A masterpiece of controlled failure in which the narrator fails to deliver on every front.” —New York Post
“From the first paragraph, Benjamin Anastas has got you.” —Thomas Mallon
Benjamin Anastas: Just that I'm pleased to be invited to barnesandnoble.com to speak with readers.
Benjamin Anastas: The reason why I went to an MFA program in the first place is that I wanted to be around writers. I was very young, 22, when I went to Iowa -- perhaps too young -- and I found it a difficult but great experience. I highly recommend MFA programs to other young writers, but attending one certainly isn't necessary. When I was in college, writing was something that I had done in secret, and to all of a sudden meet 50 other people who had the same secret was liberating. As to Iowa's reputation, the teachers they attract are excellent, but other MFA programs are just as strong. I learned as much from my peers as I did from any faculty member, and the process of workshopping short stories really accelerated my progress...I hope.
Benjamin Anastas: Yes, actually. My first short story was published in Story magazine in 1992. While I was in graduate school I was fiction editor of The Iowa Review, and while I was there, I had the privilege of publishing book reviews. After that, my next published short story was in the November '94 issue of GQ. And the rest of my short stories are in the bottom drawer of my desk.
Benjamin Anastas: Rest his soul is right. I have to admit to being a little bit unfamiliar with his overarching theory of child-rearing, but I think he would have been pleased. It was very important for me as I was writing the book to paint a generous portrait of the parents. So many books about the '60s and '70s are infused with a bitterness about the countercultural quirks of the time, especially as they appear in parents. To me Clive and William's parents are essentially good people. So, yes, I think Dr. Spock would have been pleased.
Benjamin Anastas: Actually, no, I've never seen "Slacker," but I think Linklater is a genius. I loved "Dazed and Confused." Like everybody else, I'm puzzled by the Church of the SubGenius, so I can't strictly call myself a fan.
Benjamin Anastas: Good question! The comparison to Holden Caulfield comes at the end of a much longer quote that the publishers edited. I don't see a direct relationship between William and Holden. Francisco Goldman in the original quote argued that characters in American fiction who resist the pressure to succeed constitute a "near-criminal type." In this sense, William and Holden Caufield bear some resemblance to one another. Otherwise, there are a number of important differences. William's voice is more mature than Holden's, as one small example. And while I love Salinger, I respond the strongest to his last published book, RAISE HIGH THE ROOFBEAM, CARPENTERS AND SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION. But I think when the publishers receive two quotes that mentioned Salinger, they lost their heads.
Benjamin Anastas: I didn't know I was being hailed as an up-and-coming young writer for the MTV generation. If I am, I guess that's good. I haven't read Maggie Estep's book, and don't know very much about her. I tend to avoid the spoken-word poetry scene. But maybe, if you recommend her book, I'll take a look at it.
Benjamin Anastas: Wow, this is a big question. William is an entirely fictional construct, but I have filtered some autobiography through him. I was hoping to reproduce the tone of an autobiographical first novel as I wrote, even if the events had nothing to do with me. I am a fraternal twin, rather than an identical one. I have a twin sister named Rhea. I had always wanted to write about twins but didn't feel comfortable doing so until I was certain that I was writing fiction.
Benjamin Anastas: What I've learned from publishing my first book is that writing itself becomes more difficult under the various pressures you become subject to. I've always been very disciplined -- like Clive -- but my heart is closer, I think, to William's. A lot of writers talk about how characters represent different facets of their personality, and I think it's the same with the twins.
Benjamin Anastas: One of my favorite writers is named Rebecca Lee. She's just published short stories at this point -- all three have been in The Atlantic Monthly -- but at some point she'll come out with a book, and I'm sure it will be brilliant. Another novel to watch out for is from a young writer named Peter Craig. He's from Los Angeles, and he's written a very funny satire of celebrity culture.
Benjamin Anastas: I'm definitely an East Coaster. The San Francisco section of the novel is based on one very brief visit, basically a fact-finding mission. Frankly, life out there seems too good to be true, but then again, I'm a transplanted New Yorker. The novel, to me, is deeply grounded in a specific place, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I wanted to capture the particular mixture of class and progressive politics so prevalent there.
Benjamin Anastas: The story began with a line from Dostoyevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND. Toward the end of the book, Underground Man, the narrator, asks, "Which is better, cheap happiness or sublime suffering?" The question seemed unfairly weighted to me. So I thought a way to strike a balance might be to have one twin brother, Clive, represent cheap happiness, although since he is a fully rounded character, his happiness isn't all that cheap, and the other twin, William, represent sublime suffering, not that his suffering is always sublime. I guess the fact that I chose William to narrate the story shows that I am more sympathetic to the suffering side of the equation.
Benjamin Anastas: Pammi, are you really my editor? This is the beginning of my style, and I hope it will grow and evolve over the course of my writing life. Everyone close to me in publishing hopes that I stay funny, but I can't make any promises. To me, the humor in the book is deepened by a kind of sadness, and I think this feeling will characterize, more than anything else, everything I write.
Benjamin Anastas: I just did a whole interview about this subject in The Boston Phoenix see www.bostonphoenix.com. Essentially, I do think GenX is a meaningless label, and underachieving as a theory only means something within the context of the book.
Benjamin Anastas: The truth is, the author has some say, but not very much. Luckily I am with an excellent press, and they had the foresight to hire a brilliant book designer. After Michael Kaye he's the book designer read the book, he told me, "My mind was empty of images." That's the highest praise it's received so far, in my book.
Benjamin Anastas: I just want to thank everyone for reading and paying attention to a first novel in a time when literary fiction doesn't seem to mean anything. A readership, however small or large, means more to an author than one might think.
Posted December 28, 2011
Posted April 30, 2008
Posted March 3, 2006
If you liked The Catcher in the Rye, then you must read this 'diary.' I have thoroughly enjoyed both. This story makes one go right along with William and allows you to share his feelings, no matter how odd. At some points you laugh out loud and at others you want to pat the poor guy on the back.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2004
Perhaps the title should have given it away, but this book was a bore. I got halfway through and I was thinking to myself, What am I reading? What is the point of this? Where is this story going? The answer is no where. Save you money and buy something else.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2010
No text was provided for this review.
Posted October 27, 2009
No text was provided for this review.