K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > A Wolf at the Table

A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
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Jun 29, 11

bookshelves: memoirs, gay-lit
Read from June 23 to 29, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Early this year, I read Augusten Burrough’s bestselling memoir about his dysfunctional family in Running With Scissors (2002). It covers the time that Burroughs spent living in the home of his mother’s therapist. I was enjoying it (after all, Augusten Burroughs ranks #15 in the Top 25 Funniest People in America according to a magazine's survey) until it came to that detailed oral sex scene between him and the other male character towards the end of the book. That threw me off not because I am squeamish about homosexual acts but I thought that it was totally misplaced.

I’d like to give him another try so when I saw a second-hand copy of his memoir prequel, A Wolf At My Table (2008), I immediately bought it. This is a prequel because this covers mainly his relationship with his father from the time he was born up to the time of his parent’s divorce before story closed with his father’s death scene.

I am not new on coming-of-age gay boyhood memoirs. I’ve already read and liked The Boy’s Own Life (1982) by Edmund White, America’s Boy (2007) by Wade Rouse, and even gay girlhood: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) by Jeanette Winterson. For me these are all better in many aspects than Burrough’s version of his sad experiences of being unloved or ridiculed because of his sexual preference.

This book, A Wolf At My Table is definitely not a book that one gives to his/her father for Fathers’ Day. Burroughs hated his father while growing up and this book is full of invective and hatred that for me are very unfortunate because his father is dead and cannot defend himself anymore. I am not sure if what Burroughs claims to have happened were all true but why wash your dirty linens in public? I’d suggest that he should have gone and talk to his shrink instead of using his dead father to sell his books. This is like desecrating the memories, whether good or bad, of his father just to earn a living.

And if you want to know what started that hatred, here it is: his father let his guinea pig Ernie die by not taking care of it while Burroughs was out of town with his mother. His father did not know that the poor guinea pig was dead when his wife and son came back. Maybe the father just did not know how to take care of that small animal as there was no mention about him being able to take care of anything. A similar case happened to me and my daughter when she was 5-6 years old. My wife brought her to Baguio over a weekend and they asked me to take care of my daughter’s pet fishes in the aquarium. I did not know that fish could be overfed. So, I fed them lots of pellets and enjoyed watching them eat those just like how I normally feed dogs when I have only one chance in a day to do so: I put a whole day's quantity of dog food on his plate and watch his stomach grow to its full size.

So, all the fishes in the aquarium died two days after. Just in time for my daughter’s return. Luckily, my daughter did not react the same way Burroughs overreacted. He wanted to kill his father and he did not want to have anything to do with him anymore. Had this happened to me and my daughter, I would have bought all the aquarium fishes in Metro Manila just to earn her love back!

I just did not understand why Burroughs had to put all those dramatic dialogues expressing his strong hatred to his father. He writes well but he has the tendency to overwrite himself and turns his own character into an OA (overacting) performance. Maybe he was part of a drama guild when he was young or that being overly melodramatic is really his style. This came as a surprise for me considering that he is again one of the funniest people in the USA according to a local (US) showbiz magazine.

Overall, I think this is just a clear case of a mismatch: a wrong father to a wrong son. The father was a straight detached traditional old-school man. Burroughs is a homosexual who is very emotional and has good flair on drama. Love could have bridged the gap between them but unfortunately as they say life is a big joke and it just did not develop between the two until that part towards the end of the story.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I have no idea if Burroughs really is one of the funniest people in the US since I haven't read him, but I do know I chuckled at your characterization of him, K.D.!

message 2: by K.D. (new) - rated it 1 star

K.D. Absolutely It is mentioned in his Wiki, T:

Burroughs has been profiled in People, The Guardian, and Entertainment Weekly, where he ranked 15 on the 2005 list of "The 25 Funniest People in America" and was named to the magazine's "It List".

I think it is because of his TV comedy programs.

message 3: by Teresa (new)

Teresa K.D. wrote: "It is mentioned in his Wiki, T:

Burroughs has been profiled in People, The Guardian, and Entertainment Weekly, where he ranked 15 on the 2005 list of "The 25 Funniest People in America" and was ..."

Oh, I believed you, though those are all magazines I don't read and I've never seen any of his TV programs. What I do know, though, is that I found how you worded your review very entertaining.

message 4: by Sue (new)

Sue I think I now know all I need to know about Burroughs. Thanks for the review K.D.

message 5: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Nice, amusing review, KD. I agree with Sue, by the way!

message 6: by K.D. (new) - rated it 1 star

K.D. Absolutely T: Yes, I know what you mean. Our local magazines, TV programs or even radio programs conduct those unofficial surveys too.

S and B: Thanks. Yes, do yourself a favor. Stay away from Burrough's memoirs. They just suck.

message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue Thanks K.D.

message 8: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Thanks for the warning!

Charity It's likely that your child didn't have a dramatic reaction to the fish dying because you were already treating your child with love on a regular basis.

message 10: by K.D. (new) - rated it 1 star

K.D. Absolutely Yes, you have a point. Thanks, Charity.

Christina terrible terrible and oh so dramatic was this story! i had to rush through it!!

message 12: by Cindy (new) - added it

Cindy His father was an alcoholic. That tends to cause some resentment.

message 13: by K.D. (new) - rated it 1 star

K.D. Absolutely Christina, I could empathize with that.

Cindy, oh yes. He was really a booze addict.

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