Review: Wolf At The Table

Wolf AT The Table;By Augusten Burroughs
Wolf AT The Table;By Augusten Burroughs

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.

5 Comments on “Review: Wolf At The Table”

  1. Like I said before, you have compelled me to seek this book and indulge. You’ve written a good review.

  2. Setting the stage of what a father should not be, helps define the principles of what is necessary to become a good father. It’s the human condition to make mistakes. Unfortunately, the human condition doesn’t allow everyone to learn from their mistakes or the mistakes of others. Often, what is needed is re-enforcement. When a person reads the admissions of those who have survived a shipwreck of early home bringing, there is a feeling of identity; “oh my gosh, i’ve done that,” or “i’ve been through that and didn’t know how to cope with it”. There is no longer the feeling of alienation; as though the experiences were exclusively that person’s. This makes it easier for the person to transpose his or her thoughts from, “nobody understands me”, to “we’re in this together. What can we do about it?” As we leave behind our taboos of what should and should not be talked about, we begin to see a pattern of what should not be done, giving more clarity to the guiding factors of what should be done. Take your boy fishing isn’t literal advice; it’s a metaphor for touching bases with your child, taking time for him, making him an integral part of your life and making your lives together a shared experience. Thank you for sharing this review of a book that could be a critical examination into the way we treat our children.

  3. I too picked up this book expecting it to be the usual mix of horror and humor, too late realizing most of the humor had been left out of this one. It is good to come at this read realizing it is not the normal Burroughs formula. That being said it was beautiful, enlightening and not too hard to look at. He has a way with that, hold my hand and it will be okay is woven all throughout his prose.
    This is a good therapudic book for those who have experienced similar, people can read it and process, and also feel less alone. It is also a perfect book for understanding those in our lives who have been to these places but do not have the gift for storytelling or cannot yet speak on these subjects.

  4. The prologue was amazing, but I never did read this book. It is a rare treat to see this book reviewed! Thank you!

  5. Well .I actually quite hate the surge of metiroisms these past few years. I believe it has led to a rise in amateur writers, with no concept of prose and its construction, commodifying their own sordid lives in the most grotesque sort of self-exploitation. They do nothing to further the art, but merely use it as a medium to sell glorified anecdotes. Augusten Burroughs is the most visible example of this.David Sedaris, though, attempts to rise above this morass and become a genuine humorist. And he’s pretty good at it. At his best, he might become Dave Barry in the 80s.

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