I have a miniscule memory of reading a review of this book several years ago, which extends only to the idea that this memoir involves the boyhood abandonment of the author (evoking a horrifying youth like that in The Glass Castle--although Jeannette Walls was never abandoned, she may as well have been) with a dark humor in the style of David Sedaris. This was confirmed when I read the "additional praise" quotes just inside the front cover and several compared Burroughs to Sedaris.
Before reading, I was slightly ambivalent about the book, and the aforementioned quotes didn't really help. One of them made the book sound great: "It's gross, it's shocking and its humor is blacker than a thousand midnights . . . " but the very next quote negated the previous one for me: "Brutal, disturbing . . . unfathomable heartache and dysfunction." (That's not the whole quote, but those are the parts that stood out to me). But I was resigned to discovering whether Burroughs was able to put the "fun" in dysfunction.
Well. My goodness. This memoir is a train wreck if I ever saw one. You know how I label some books as "not suitable for my mom"? I think this book was not suitable for me. It should have had a subtitle of "Adults Who Should Have Known Better But Didn't." (If you are a tender sweet young thing and you can't handle reading words like "penis," please close your eyes, skip to the next paragraph, and then open your eyes to continue reading again.) It was bad enough when I read about the six year old boy giggling as his dog licked his erect penis (not that I blame the boy, but there were adults in his life who should have taught him that this is Not Right), but it was awfully icky to read about 33-year-old Bookman, erm, forcibly receiving oral sex from thirteen-year-old Augusten. All weird sexual fetishes aside, pedophilia is never cool. The whole thing is made all the more horrible by the knowledge that this is not a work of fiction.
Yeah, about this being a true story. Even some of the not-so-horrible-but-just-gross parts rather defied belief. I mean, turd fortune-telling? I guess whoever said truth is stranger than fiction was right. And how funny that the turd fortune-telling chapter ended with Natalie telling Augusten he should write all this stuff down, and then Augusten saying, "Even if I did, nobody would believe it." How did he know? Honestly, though, I'm not questioning the veracity of the memoir, because this book was first published in 2002; if Burroughs had made this stuff up, there would have been a James-Frey-style uproar by now. (Interestingly enough, there was an uproar of another kind when the real "Finch" family brought a lawsuit against Burroughs for defamation of character). True, exaggerated, or false, I just can't help but wonder, how did so much crazy crap happen to one poor kid? I had to laugh (albeit in a slightly bewildered way) when, during one of his mother's periods of psychosis, Augusten wonders "how anything would ever be normal again." My bewilderment stemmed from his use of the word "again," of course.
I must admit that the book was engrossing (emphasis on "gross", but still). On Monday I didn't think I'd been absorbed in the book for too long, but during "not too long," my three-year-old managed to unspool two full rolls of toilet paper, soak the bathroom floor with water, and smear a glue stick on her belly. I'm so glad she's going to be four soon. It will make a difference, right?? I guess I should look on the bright side: at least she didn't poop under the piano.
If you like David Sedaris and can imagine still liking him multiplied by ten, you might want to read this book. Otherwise, just take my word for it that Augusten Burroughs had a horrible childhood and is very lucky that he can make light of it now. In fact, it amazes me that Burroughs never asks for the reader's pity, and the book ends on such a note of hope.
Have I told you before how glad I am that I am NORMAL?? After reading this book I feel exceedingly lucky that, as a child, all my adults Knew Better.