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Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever

by David Yoo

Pub Date: June 19th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-446-57345-0
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

A portrait of the artist as a glum man.

Yoo, the author of two YA novels (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before, 2008, etc.), presents a painfully honest and strangely unlikable memoir recounting his conflicted feelings about being Asian American—though “conflicted” may be the wrong word, as the emotional tenor here leans precipitously toward flat-out self-hatred. The title refers to the author’s strategy of deliberate failure calculated to counter assumptions based on his membership in a “model minority” and the attendant expectations of academic and professional success. This approach led to disastrous consequences in all aspects of his life, including a chronic impotence problem, which is described in copious detail. Yoo paints himself as a dedicated dilettante, haplessly affecting hip-hop cultural signifiers as a teenager, getting through school without distinguishing himself in any way and embracing his status as an anonymous office drone in a successful bid to matter to no one and contribute nothing of significance to the world. There is plenty of rich material here, but Yoo is not a particularly flavorful prose stylist, and his reflexive self-deprecating humor is generically unamusing and further paints him as an unpleasant vortex of insecurity and muffled rage. The author experiences an ironic epiphany late in the narrative when he recognizes that his fiction is hamstrung by unsympathetic characters that exude these traits…the irony being that they also dominate this exploration of his rather pathetic personal history and are not redeemed by any special insight or transformative literary magic.

A brave exercise in self-revelation but a decidedly sour, depressing reading experience.