Monday, July 20, 2009

A Wolf at the Table

I don't know about you? But when I read "Running With Scissors", I couldn't help but wonder what family situation lead up to poor Augusten getting abandoned at his crazy mother's crazy psychiatrist's house to be reared. What, I had to ask myself, in the world, had the poor boy been used to up to that point? Was it all Ozzie and Harriet?

"A Wolf at the Table" is the book that answers that question. Answers it thoroughly. Answers it emphatically. Answers it without pity. Answers it without blinking. (And I really, really wished he would have blinked a couple of times).

Poor Augusten Burroughs, ya'll. Unless you were actually sired by a rabid dog? You undoubtedly enjoyed a better childhood than Augusten. I am sorry to inform you that the years preceding his parental abandonment (chronicled in RWS) were absolutely no better than the ones that followed. And I don't give away any plot points by telling you this. "A Wolf at the Table" is not about plot. It's about survival and cruelty. Period.

The marriage of Augusten Burrough's mother and father was, to put it mildly, troubled. John Burroughs, Augusten's father, was a philosophy professor at Amherst cursed with unusually rotten teeth, a twisted mind, and the world's worse case of psoriasis. Oh, and did I mention the arthritis? He possessed, according to Augusten, the psychological make-up of a serial killer and may or may not have acted on those impulses. Augusten was a child either terrorized or completely ignored by his, at best distant, and at worst, mentally and physically abusive father. He grew up a neglected little boy in a small moldering house in the woods scrounging for everything from food to love to veterinary care for the family pets (he seldom succeeded on any of these counts). Eventually, Augusten would come perilously close to murdering the man he, ironically, called "Dead" (according to Augusten this pronounciation was the result of his New England accent mixing with the word "Dad". Creepy.)
With "A Wolf at the Table" Burroughs officially finishes chronicling his entire (exhausting) childhood; with "Dry" his struggle with alcoholism (Burrough's father was also alcoholic...surprise!). If you are wondering why anyone would bother to immerse themselves in such grim works, you need only to read the first couple of pages of any of these books to be sucked in to Augusten's spare, muscular writing style not to mention addicted to sticking around to see what fresh hell awaits the man. There's plenty to go around.

In "A Wolf at the Table" Augusten recalls the effects of his childhood after he has broken away, trading on his talents to get a job in advertising:

I was an associate creative director at an ad agency in Manhattan. At the office, I was funny and people seemed to like me. I'd worked with the same art director for many years and we traveled together from agency to agency as a creative team, so she assumed she knew me well. A few times a day I would go into the men's room, close myself inside a stall, sit on the toilet, and block my ears with my hands. I would stay that way for a few minutes, trying to calm myself. I had the feeling that my home life, my real life, my dirty life, was leaking out, showing through. I had the feeling that people at the office could see something rotten and disturbing and insane poking through me.

It's no wonder. What is a wonder is that Augusten survived it at all. With (seemingly at least) so many of his gifts intact.


Keep up with Augusten Burroughs here at his website. Read his blog otherwise known as a "blob" here.


Patience-please said...

Augusten Burroughs and Stanley Kubrick? (According to your sidebar.) YIKES!!! It's nice out.
Oh well, I can't talk. I'm reading Flannery O'Conner's comlete works. They're cheery.

Suzanne said...

I never said I was sunshiny.