Burroughs, Augusten. “ A Wolf at the Table”, St. Martin’s, 2008.
Let’s Talk about Dad
Augusten Burroughs has become a literary wonder. His books are bestsellers and he manages to attract a large readership. We have read about his dysfunctional childhood and laughed and cried with him and wondered how he has managed to survive. I, personally, find him wonderful and await each new book.
With “A Wolf at the Table”, Burroughs takes us to the relationship between father and son and the extremes of love and hate. I think what makes Burroughs so interesting is not just that he is a good writer but his insight and honesty. He not only writes about himself but about all of us who want love and validation. He suffered greatly as a child but emerged unscathed (at least so it seems to us). He managed to overcomes hardships and revels at just being alive. I do not think that many of us could have withstood the kind of childhood that he experienced and come though it with a “joie de vive”.
Having read all of Burroughs’ books, I was pretty sure that I knew what to expect from this new book but I found myself pleasantly surprised to see how Burroughs can write about such crazy experiences and remain both in control and relaxed. I think most of us who had experienced a childhood like his would find it excessively hard to remain detached and cool about it. His father was an unpredictable predator with mood swings that just happened to come along. I found the tension and suspense to be, at times, almost overbearing. Burroughs captures the suspense beautifully. When Burroughs writes about the dreams he has of his father and how he is still unable to decide whether they are dreams or events that actually happened and neither are we. To have those ideas on one’s mind are frightening and the fact that Burroughs’ father was not just a strange person to him but a mystery as well is the overwhelming idea that hovers over this book. He states that as he grew the idea of his father remained a sinister thought in his mind. The kind of father that he wanted and felt he needed just never did come into being. His father was a person who seemed to care only for himself and took little part in raising his son. What he did do was remain apart except when he needed his son for something sinister.
Burroughs’ writing has a quality to it that is hard to define. He plays with the reader and draws him in and carries him with him as he tells the dark tale of his father. Burroughs manages the emotions as they waver between love and sadness, reverence and disgust and he does so masterfully.
This is a darker Augusten Burroughs than we have known but that doesn’t make reading him any less interesting or fun.