Book Review: The Low Achiever
A debut novel of alienation and scholastic aptitude.
Dec 6, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 12 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Munson’s portrait of Schacht is so finely wrought that it is easy to mistake this fictional narrator for an actual person. What makes November Criminals such a good debut, then, is that it is really two mysteries. There is the puzzle of Kevin Broadus’s murder, to be sure; but there is also the larger conundrum of Addison Schacht. Why does a young man of so much ability and promise hold such contempt for society? The reader comes across a clue when Schacht mentions his mother, who died of a brain hemorrhage when he was seven years old. Later, during a visit to his marijuana distributor—an obese child of privilege who dropped out of school to live in one of Washington’s “transitioning” neighborhoods— Schacht attends a dogfight and is revolted by the cruelty he witnesses.
“Remember what I said before about how you can’t manage tragedy?” he asks. “You can’t. You can’t stop Mr. Circumstance. He waits everywhere, with infinite patience and zero mercy. You can’t avoid or efface the bleak sight of the wrecks and ruins he leaves among us.”
The problem Schacht is trying to solve, in other words, is the problem of evil. That evil exists makes no sense to the budding rationalist. He lacks an explanation for why bad things happen to good people (his mother, Kevin Broadus) or innocent creatures (dogs). He is thrown, therefore, into the same existential despair and moral relativism that has plagued many Western writers for more than a century. This is why it is important to learn that Schacht and his father, while Jewish, have no religion. Schacht’s intellectual dilemma doesn’t even rise to the level of theodicy, i.e., reconciling the existence of God with the existence of evil. Theodicy presupposes belief in the divine. In Schacht’s corner of the nation’s capital, however, there is room for wealth and sex and drugs but none for the supernatural. There is no map to life, no binding moral code.
No wonder he is confused and angry. The death that bothers Addison Schacht the most, the reason for his fury at the world around him, is not the murder of Kevin Broadus. It is the death of God.
Matthew Continetti, opinion editor at The Weekly Standard, is the author, most recently, of The Persecution of Sarah Palin.
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