POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS by Augusten Burroughs


True Stories
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Popular memoirist Burroughs (Running with Scissors, 2002, etc.) again turns his whirligig neuroses into something resembling a book.

In this general updating of life in the world of bestsellerdom, the author pulls together a string of autobiographical essays and sketches that consistently entertain, even if they don’t always enlighten. You can almost see the child from a disturbed home dancing frantically about in these pages, doing anything to ward off the darkness. It brings a grimace with the laughter. Like many creative people who don’t know what to do with themselves, Burroughs once worked in advertising, an experience summed up in a particularly gruesome piece about working on a Junior Mints campaign. “I hadn’t been on the account for one week,” he writes, “and already the phrase mint threshold was being bandied about.” While the ad game is good for several anecdotes, Burroughs always spirals back to the morass of his inner world, which seems at times an endless parade of worry and addiction. After years of drinking and drugging, the author appears to have managed the transition from those substances to other dependencies: junk food, QVC, chain hotels, nicotine gum. Each of these provides grist for his self-mocking, Sedaris-like humor. Later chapters journey into territory more familiar to his fans: the tempestuous landscape of his childhood, complete with a manic-depressive mother and a brother afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. The book peters out amidst less successful pieces of this sort; oddly, the less serious his subject matter, the more meaningful and heartfelt his prose. Readers will likely disregard the post–James Frey author’s note indicating that “some of the events described happened as related, other were expanded and changed.” As if we didn’t know.

Wears a little thin by the end, but still no mean effort. Sometimes, a genuine laugh or 20 is enough.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-31596-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2006


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