The best books start with an engaging premise and Benjamin DeHaven’s can be reverse engineered into a kind of conspiracy theory: What if the most popular self-help books were secretly written by one person? Then consider that the person behind the writing abuses alcohol and drugs to excess, has no sense of social responsibility, and is the very last person someone in need would seek out for counsel or advice.
That person would be Michael Enzo.
Author DeHaven has come into possession of Enzo’s voluminous journal, outlining a number of his exploits and encounters in the first person. It’s a rollicking ride with some somber encounters sprinkled throughout, a diary of sorts from a man possessed of a writing skill which keeps getting him work, so long as he’s writing in another person’s voice. (Along the way, Enzo also manages to pen two novels under his own name, neither of which finds much in the way of critical acclaim or financial success.)
By his claims, Enzo has ghostwritten tell-all books for movie stars, politicians, and business leaders, in addition to a fleet of books in the self-help genre. As his life of addiction and disorganized crime unfolds, we see these books were mostly written while on the run or in hiding, mostly in an effort to scrape together enough money to survive or to pay off a debt just in time thus allowing Enzo to scurry off to his next odd encounter.
From time to time, DeHaven himself surfaces during the adventure, to be alternately enthralled with Enzo or swindled by him in some way. (At one point, DeHaven gets stuck running an “art newspaper” when Enzo invites him to join the staff, only to bolt and leave him holding the reins of a publication on the brink of failure.)
We feel a sense of Enzo’s displacement through the non-linear telling of his exploits, time-slipping as it does from drug-addled adult moments to Enzo’s youth, his college days (with several institutions being involved), and early business beginnings.
There’s love, or loves, of a sort and here the tale of Michael Enzo engenders a true sense of confusion – or perhaps it’s merely fusion – as every women with whom he has anything resembling a relationship with is named Susan. (Including his mother) Each Susan is distinguished by one characteristic or another – Susan, the Dove soap model; Susan, the crazy cheerleader; Susan, who sells toilets. To blur the lines between author and subject even more, DeHaven is living with one of the Susans that Enzo was in love with (Confessions is even dedicated to “Susan”.)
Throughout the book, Enzo has peppered his journal with self-help tidbits, mostly the kinds of affirmations that adherents to such literature scribble onto Post-It notes and stick on their bathroom mirrors: The best things are usually done on impulse. To be successful in any venture, you must appreciate the failure of the heroes around you. Escape is impossible without knowledge.
And Enzo mentions enough run-ins with celebrities that we must have caught a glimpse of him, though perhaps only in our peripheral vision. There’s the incident where he almost gets on Oprah but is deemed just uninteresting enough to not be on the show. He claims to have worked on TV’s E/R, the job given as a favor from an unnamed star on the show for whom Enzo ghostwrote yet another self-help book. (He tells the story of the show’s Director of Photography betting him he won’t hit cast member George Clooney in the face with a snowball. He does.)
Vast amounts of money seem to slip through Enzo’s hands like water, most of it from other people’s pockets for whom he is supposed to place bets or purchase things, only to always drink, snort, or piss it away. The resulting balance of his exploits invariably forcing Enzo into slaving away to pay it off or running away into the night, only to surface in another situation where he has metamorphosed into something else to get by.
Enzo’s final journal entry gives us hope that he has perhaps begun to take some of his own advice, as well as reveals that he’s flying off to begin a life with much of his old baggage left behind.
— Marc Hershon is co-author of I Hate People! Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job. He has written a number of movies for the Hallmark Channel, writes a blog and reviews for Huffington Post, and hosts Succotash, the Comedy Podcast. As Creative Director of Lexicon Branding in Sausalito, CA, he has helped to create a number of internationally known brand names, including BlackBerry, Dasani, and Swiffer.