When I was twenty years old, I remember becoming infatuated with anonymously publishing a mission pamphlet or manifesto and leaving it all over my university’s campus. I wanted to rouse the well-meaning but wrong-living people around me to Life. I wanted to tear down everything that made me angry. I wanted the injustices and stupidities that I saw in American life to make everyone angry. I thought that I was meant for more; I thought that everyone was meant for more.
Those pamphlets or manifestos that I wanted to publish was never published. I didn’t have anything meaningful to offer. Anything I would have written had already been written better. I moved on. But, under my degrees and respectable job, I still wonder about my life choices and whether I sold out. I wonder what the seventeen year old version of me or the twenty year old version of me would think of my life choices.
All of that explains why I bought the blank covered, anonymously written Manifesto as soon as I saw it crammed in the shelves of a local independent bookseller. At first, I was hoping someone just stuck their own book on the shelves for free. Still, it was only $5, so I bought it.
Manifesto has no cover, no title page, no introduction, no chapters, no plot. It’s a sort of stream of conscious, scattershot style that a cynical person may argue is a poor rip off of Beat writers or Catcher in the Rye. Despite the lack of structure or plot, the prose has a lyrical rhythm that the reader catches quickly.
The book is comprised of the thoughts of a dissatisfied, wealthy, young American male. He knows that he had a good childhood, that is fairly lucky to get in to great schools, that he has no real problems other than hating school, work, boredom, fat people, suburbs, etc. “I didn’t want a high-paying job…I didn’t want an obvious life.”
His discontent takes him in and out of school, in and out of drug use and abuse, all over the country. “I went west because I didn’t want to go east.”
“I was a timid American, dissatisfied with my lot, like when a man ordered a cheeseburger with no mustard and got mustard.”
Even though it is a relatively short 200 pages, the book can be a chore at times. (You don’t enjoy life, we get it!) At the same time, the wandering nature of the prose fits the writer’s mood and viewpoint well, and is effective.
The book also challenged my own life choices and my own worldview. It forced me to reconcile where I am now versus the angry young man who wanted to write a manifesto. Ultimately, I remembered why I chose the way I did and I am content. The book deserves at least three stars for forcing the reader to look in the mirror.