By: The David
He writes with a gift that puts you there, and if you listen, you can hear him form the words that tell the story. He is so gifted there is pain. I am an unabashed fan of this man, this writer, this Augusten Burroughs. I am a fan of his style and his humor.
I became aware of the author when I picked up a volume titled “Running With Scissors.” Many are familiar with this story by now, either from reading the book or from seeing the film made from it. It is a memoir, and a terrible slice of life from Burroughs’ past when his mother farmed him out to live with her psychiatrist and his very strange family. It is the story of a young boy who is taken as a lover by an older man who lives in the house he was sent to. It is a story that is made bearable only by the fact that Mr. Burroughs tells it with a gift of humor that makes even the most hurtful episodes tolerable. I thought from the first sentence of his I read that this was his gift and he used it wisely; humor that shone through it all!
The episodic “Possible Side Effects” and “Magical Thinking” revealed the same gift in essays describing events in the writer’s life and experiences from his days in advertising. His sense of humor and ability to see the funny-side of life stayed with him.
“Sellevision” was a novel that skewed the television sales channels. It is satire and it is funny. Whether or not this was based on any events in Burroughs’ life it rings true. Farce is sometimes a good disguise, and this book about some of the personalities that work the viewers and entice them to buy is surely farcical. The cast of that channel includes a gay man who inadvertently exposes himself during a sales program aimed at children; a woman who is a compulsive buyer; another sales woman who is losing her mind as she is stalked by a viewer, and while her husband begins an affair with her seventeen year old neighbor; and finally one more on screen personality who is having an affair with her boss and looks toward a fitting revenge. It is all for laughs…..
“Dry” is a memoir of the author’s alcoholism and his path toward recovering. This also is a slice of life, not at all glossed over, but still, seen with humor, and you feel that it is this gift of humor that helped toward the strength he needed to find his way back.
But then Mr. Burroughs wrote another memoir. This one came out only a few days ago, and my order was in the day I heard it was coming. When it arrived from Amazon, it was hardly out of the box before I had opened it and begun to read. It grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It is a horror story unlike anything I have ever read by this author. There are indeed flashes of humor, but the underlying text can move one to tears.
The book “A Wolf At The Table” is another slice of Burroughs childhood. This one takes on his father, and becomes a primer on everything a father should not be. The father is distant (to understate the matter) and totally unapproachable. He is cruel. The time period this covers, until the author is about twelve, is a constant period of neglect as seen through the eyes of the child. That is partly what makes this so moving, the fact that we see it from the boy’s point of view as he tries to gain some sort of manifestation that his father does love him, does care about him. He is constantly pushed away in actuality or in manifestations of hostility from his father such as allowing the boy’s guinea pig to die from neglect and then refusing to have his dog seen by a veterinarian and leaving it to die a terrible death while the young boy can only watch, or buying him a baseball glove but refusing to show him how to use it. The household is constantly undermined by the threat of violence that is always a companion to this family.
Burroughs’ mother is loving, but wrestling with her own bipolar disorder that leaves her unrealistically manic or profoundly depressed. In one particularly tormenting episode, we see her institutionalized and the author is left alone with his father. He begins to fantasize about patricide, and the reader can well-understand how this could be.
This piece of the story lets one in on how the author could have sought out an older lover when he was too young to have a lover of any sort. It lets the reader see the forces that led to the alcoholism of the adult Burroughs. It is a key piece to the puzzle telling us how Augusten Burroughs came to be.
Anyone who is a father, hopes to be a father or has had a father should read this book. It is not a pretty story, but it will tell you what NOT to do lest you wish to ruin your child before he even gets started. It is so heart-breaking you are left with the question as to how anyone could have survived it all.