Dirtball: The Diaries of a Worthless Somebody is an autobiographical first novel by Eric Olsen. The book follows character “EO”, a reasonably average young American man who realizes his need to change his life after an incident with a friend who calls him the personally poignant name of a “dirtball”. What follows is a recounting of the author’s attempt to turn around from his built-up bad decisions and bad luck by starting fresh, despite his adversity in problems old and new.
Whether he really can is one of the questions the book aims to provide answers to, but by far not the only one. The spiraling problems of friends, family, money and lifestyle form a circular cascade for the author, and he describes each one in an unflinching and honest way as they become relevant, or inescapable. The book eschews a less structured approach to story telling so as much using a flowing narrative of events and details the author recounts, as a diary often does. There’s not defined beginning, middle or end with the story as the story is the author’s life, glimpsed only for a window of time through writing. Anecdotes are a regular occurrence, pulling here and there in the overall narrative with the purpose of moving forward in a sense of understanding most of all. It flows like conversation more than a straight story, and this is definitely an interesting point to the book.
The story itself is not a clean one. Nobody is presented as a Hollywood, bleached out version of themselves, just as they are, with any flaws, problems or prejudices on display as the author notes them. The warning of a book truly enjoyed by “mature” readers is in this way not an idle one.
Drink, drugs, sex and more-than-mild language hangs around as unavoidable aspects of the gritty nature of the story, and make up as much of the author’s problems as his existential worries and feelings of loss of self-agency and self-worth, all very adult issues and adult fears.
Dirtball: The Diaries of a Worthless Somebody is a book that some readers may want to stay away from, as it takes its own path in the way the author feels best works for the story, and definitely speaks candidly in a way some may not want to be privy to. This is not a failure, but it is a fair warning. The book is often dirty and bleak, but the journey is intended as a personal quest for self-betterment in the most realistic way. It’s not clear what may be truth or fiction in the writing – seemingly based at least mostly on real experience but unclear what may be embellishment in reading – but whichever balance there is, the story is interesting and engaging to anyone with a like mind, and it is strikingly honest. Love, loss and liquor are but a small part of the whole. This book makes a good read for anyone who knows that, sometimes, you’re a dirtball inside.