If you read my review of the Augusten Burroughs’ book Running With Scissors, you know I’m conflicted about it. I feel differently about the prequel A Wolf at the Table–the story of his frightening father.
In this book Burroughs captures my attention up front by saying that for years he couldn’t remember much from his childhood about his father. When it all starts coming back, it’s almost too much to bear.
He also presents himself as a sympathetic character, one that I feel a deep empathy for. One of the ways he does this is by showing how his father treated one of their dogs–and how it bothered Augusten.
They had three dogs, and Burroughs loved them all. The two larger dogs were allowed inside the house by the father. The smallest, “a little black elkhound with a curlicue tail” named Grover, was not allowed in the house. The reason was that the father, for no apparent reason, considered him an “outdoor dog.” Grover “practically never left the deck where he slept, pressed against the sliding glass doors.” Burroughs writes: “Like there was a special breed of dog that might die if exposed to a sofa.” This upsets Burroughs (and me). The last two paragraphs in this passage are especially poignant:
Even on the coldest winter night when Grover was no more than a black, furry mound curled into himself and pressed up against the house, my father wouldn’t let him in.
Sometimes, I let bad thoughts linger. Like, if my father made Grover sleep outside in the cold, what stopped him from locking me out there, too? He had two sons; what if he decided to make the younger one the “outside” son?
And, in a way, that is exactly what does happen to Burroughs.
One of the strongest threads in this book is the secret that Burroughs’ father shared with him. The question is: did it happen or not? But it’s Burroughs asking the question this time, not the reader.
If you look up reviews you will see that some critics don’t like this book. They might miss the humor they found in Running with Scissors. But this book has real heart. Some readers say that Burroughs couldn’t possibly remember the mobile above his crib. I don’t know what they are talking about because I remember a vivid event from when I was still in a crib–less than two years old. I remember my room in detail, especially the shadows and lights and special objects like my music box.
In reading reviews of this book, I noticed that Burroughs’ brother, who has Asperger’s, says he has trouble reading behavior in other people and that he believes their father had some of his own “autistic traits.” This is a controversial subject because many of us love people who have Asperger’s or are autistic. Their condition doesn’t make them cruel to children or animals.
If you had a very difficult parent, this book might break your heart.