Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs

This is another of Burroughs memoirs, this one specifically for his father, or so it says on the cover. I never read Running With Scissors so I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it was going to be darkly funny, based on seeing the movie of his first memoir, but it turns out this one was just dark.
He opens the book with a fast paced, scary, and exciting scene of his father chasing him through the woods at night; he never says why this is happening, neither here nor when the scene gets retold later in the narrative. His father does not catch him, that's the most important thing about this scene, as the reader is led to believe that he might be seriously hurt if he were caught. There is some vague notion that this chase is in response to something Augusten has said or done, but that is never confirmed. Needless to say, this is what really got me hooked on the book, and made sure that I wasn't going to want to put it down.
This book basically chronicles the early childhood of the author and how horrible it was made by his sociopath and possibly homicidal father. He and his mother stayed in Mexico for a while with one of her friends, just to get away from his father, because, according to his mother, he was "dangerous." As a child Augusten never understood what his mother meant when she said this, but later in his childhood, he began to figure it out for himself.
The end of the book is about Burroughs' adult life after moving away from his parents. Augusten was always terrified of becoming like his father, and would actually pray that he would never end up like him. Burroughs succeeded, for the most part. He did develop a drinking problem later in life, and was constantly trying to keep that secret from everyone in his life. Burroughs had always talked about his father being two different people: mean, violent, and worse in private, yet in public he was none of those things. And now Burroughs himself had developed that mask as well; to the world he was a funny, smart, responsible guy, but at home he drank to extreme excess and lived in filth.
I liked this memoir. I don't think it taught anything, really, other than to not become like him or his father, but I guess I shouldn't expect it to teach me anything. It made me cringe to read, because I had no way to relate to any of his life, but that's probably what made it so interesting. I wouldn't recommend this to people with weak stomachs, some of it is very hard to handle.

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