Monday, September 29, 2008

"A Wolf at the Table" by Augusten Burroughs

About a year ago I read Burroughs' "Running with Scissors," a memoir I found so disturbing I disliked reading it, yet could not put it down. "A Wolf at the Table" is, in some ways, a prequel-memoir, focusing more on Augusten's relationship with his father, a philosophy professor who had two faces: the kindly professor he showed when out, and the alcoholic, affection-depriving socio-path he was at night and at home with his family.

Burroughs does a good job retelling what it was like growing up; perhaps a little too well. He has a command of language and detail that almost borders on being autistic or Asberger's-like (his older brother was autistic). Clearly, he is a man of a very high IQ.

God rears his head on pp. 135-136. Burroughs writes that he "prayed often and prayed hard," not making a steeple with his fingers, but by making his head "empty,hollow", believing God was a "watchful, interested presence" in his life. For him, God was a friendly voice that asked questions and existed as "The Correct Answer inside my chest." He compares his faith to those of The 700 Club who call up asking for favors, money, miracles. Burroughs writes "Why did these people have to call a television show to ask for favors, if God was always with me, even when I was alone in the woods?"

Later, on pages 160-163, Burroughs father catches him praying. He is not kneeling because "kneeling is for people who aren't friends with" God. His father, an ex-minister, asks why he is praying, reminding his son that he is much to old to believe in God.

The book can be a quick read, depending on what mood one is in. It's also a harrowing, frightening read. I would recommend it to people who knew what it was like to grow up in a home in which they did not always feel safe or in which there seemed to be mysterious incidents that seemed real yet dream-like at the same time.

I especially likes the ending when Burroughs admits he was living a two-faced life as well, living in alcoholic squalor as an adult while portraying professional success to the outside world.

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