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A WOLF AT THE TABLE by Augusten Burroughs


A Memoir of My Father

by Augusten Burroughs

Pub Date: April 29th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-34202-9
Publisher: St. Martin's

Memoir about the bestselling autobiographer’s father manages flashes of insight but turns into yet another baroque chronicle of Burroughs’s damaged childhood (Possible Side Effects, 2006, etc.).

In a dramatic early scene, his father explodes: “ ‘Goddamn you,’ he spit in my face. ‘Just this barrage of incessant talking on and on and on…you cannot simply dominate a room and the thoughts and attentions of every person in that room simply because you are in it.’ ” It’s a completely disproportionate response to some routine toddler nagging, and the brutal spanking that accompanies it is a precursor of more abuse to come. Those familiar with Burroughs’s particularly gothic familial mythos (previously focused on adolescence and early adulthood) will recognize his mother in her several manic, pill-popping appearances here. Instead of Svengali-like psychiatrists or his own self-destructive obsessions, the villain this time is the author’s father, a philosophy professor and brooding drunk whose intellectual prowess only serves to further exacerbate his black moods and desire for solitude. Burroughs begins with some impressionistic early childhood memories, only getting around to any substantive consideration of his father some 80 pages into the text, when the boy becomes convinced that the man has killed his guinea pig. While Burroughs deftly builds a creepy portrait of a skulking, violence-prone predator, too often his subject is obscured by florid, overheated prose. After many pages of invective, not all of which seems warranted, the author finally demonstrates some perspective, writing, “All he was guilty of was not wanting me.”

A deeply felt personal essay padded to book length.