Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Wolf at the Table

A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burrough's new memoir on his father, is absolutely worth reading. I just put it down, and I have to say: I couldn't stop reading it.

I liked this book better than some of his others (Running with Scissors and Sellevision), but his shorter stories are entirely amusing to me. This book recalls Augusten's memories of his father, mostly from his childhood, recalling his drunken, angry, violent father and how this impacted his life and image of himself as a man in his shadow.

His memories are sharp and are explained with utter detail as if we've somehow warped back to 1970 and are in the room with the family. You can sense the uncomfortable nature, the awkward tension, the drama, the anger, the resentment. It was quite a horrid place to grow up in, if you ask me.

I think one of Burroughs' strengths as a writer would have to his ability to construct characters. He can create the most vivid, articulate characters that you either love or hate, resent or secretly enjoy. The way he creates the image of his father makes the reader feel how he felt as a child in the presence of an unstable man. I feel sympathy for the sitation, but I know that we grow and learn from our situations as Burroughs had with his childhood and parental situation.

Even though I enjoyed the book, looking at it from a deeper analytical perspective, a lot of it seemed kind of sporadic and disconnected. Certain parts seemed random and it jumped all over the place at times. Some pages were choppy and just contained a random paragraph or two that seemed to be written at completely different times but were just sort of inserted in there because it's good writing. I liked the frequent breaks, but sometimes I felt that they didn't flow or keep me reading at a steady pace. He still can pull it off though.

I also wonder what happened with his mother. We receive closure at the end of A Wolf at the Table when his father dies, but what happens to his mother? There isn't much information on her available.

Writing this book must have been theraputic for Burroughs. It seems that there was a lot of unresolved inner issues with his father, and perhaps writing this book, getting out every bitter memory or him, and somehow putting it all together and making sense of it might help close that door and heal those wounds to forgive him and put everything past him. Perhaps this is also a tribute to him (even though it does turn him into the antagonist that we all despise) because now his memory lives on forever. Even if his students forget him, people will remember his father through his memoir and perhaps can learn to understand why he was the way he was. This book was out of love and understanding even though it was a hard, troubling time for him.

I do have to admit that I was sickened by the pet deaths in the book. I know those were necessary for the plot, but they were absolutely horrifying and gruesome. It helped show his insensitivity to small creatures (or just any living thing for that matter), but his writing was so powerful that I found myself cringing and moaning when I got those points. It was absolutely disgusting. If you are an absolute animal lover, I do encourage to read the book, but there are certain points that you might want to avoid.

I guess we all do fear that we might end up like our parents. I think it's that growing fear (as we get older and recognize some of their faults) that makes us afraid when we do see ourselves engaging in the same behaviors or turning out to resemble them, even in the slightest way. You hope that you carry on their good characteristics, but sometimes you just can't help turning out like them in some ways. When you're raised in a certain environment, it's hard not to take on factors from that environment, or from the role models that surround you. I entirely do believe that our childhoods deeply shape who we become, and I think this is evident in this book.

Burroughs struggled in this book because he was taking on negative qualities from his father. Since he didn't find many attractive qualities in his father, seeing any of them come out in him was a tragedy. Especially since he carried on the alcoholism, that must have really stung him. That's not the easiest trait to carry over into yourself.

Anyway, this is a great book and a must-read. Anything by the author will do. He is an intelligent man with a great sense of humor and his ability to entertain is unlike any that I have seen before. His talents should be recognized.

So, what did you think of A Wolf at the Table?

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