Burroughs returns home to share story of his father
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
SOUTH HADLEY America first got to know memoirist Augusten Burroughs through "Dry," "Possible Side Effects," "Magical Thinking" and "Sellevision."
Then, in 2002, "Running with Scissors" was released and Burroughs became a household name even more so when the memoir was transformed into a major motion picture.
Of course, Western Massachusetts knew about him for a long time. He was a native of Leverett/Northampton/Amherst and currently owns a home in Amherst. He said he was glad to be home during a reading that took place at Mt. Holyoke College last Wednesday.
Burroughs has been touring since late April to promote his latest, a memoir of his father, "A Wolf at the Table." The book is decidedly different from his past five releases in that it is stark, scary, suspenseful and not the least bit silly.
"I never planned to write 'Wolf at the Table,'" Burroughs explained to the full Chapin Auditorium at Mt. Holyoke College. "Now it lets people realize that 'Running with Scissors' was the fun part of my childhood."
"A Wolf at the Table" captures just a few years of Burroughs' life, from about age seven to 10, and it paints a frightening picture.
"His students loved him, he was very polite, he opened doors," Burroughs stated, "but I didn't know that man. It's not something I can explain on stage. It needed a book. I could see nothing in his eyes."
He added that his book is about his father systematically destroying his childhood and his love. Burroughs said that today, his father would probably be categorized as a sociopath and that, mixed with his alcoholism, often made him "actively dangerous."
"When he was dying in 2005, I expected to feel a wave of grief. Instead, I felt Freedom, with a capital F, a stainless steel F," he said. "And when I started writing, I felt like I was pregnant with sextuplets and they had to come out now."
Burroughs read only one excerpt from "A Wolf at the Table," but it was a particularly harrowing and uncertain memory. Without giving it away, he's vacationing with his parents out at Martha's Vineyard and something totally unforeseeable occurs. He read the pages slowly, with inflection, even using the soft Georgia accents his parents once had.
After the reading, he opened up the floor for a question and answer session. When asked what his next book would be, he explained that his favorite holiday has always been Christmas, even though every Christmas has been a nightmare. He plans on chronicling some of those holidays in "You Better Not Cry."
He also explained how he deals with all the things he's gone through. "'Healing' is a television word," Burroughs stated. "There are some things you never heal from. They leave a big hole in you and that hole never goes away ... but the body and brain overcompensate and you become strong around that hole. I am Swiss cheese. I just strive to be okay."
Despite those holes, he manages to hold on to his sense of humor. "My brain said, 'Either kill yourself or focus on that turkey carcass under the piano.' [Humor] is a very useful defense mechanism. I did not have that mechanism at age seven, though, and that's why the book ["A Wolf at the Table"] is brutal," he said.
Burroughs will be appearing next at the Food for Thought Bookstore, 106 North Pleasant St. in Amherst, on June 26 at 7 p.m. Call 253-5432 for more information.
To learn more about the author, visit www.augusten.com.