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on May 2, 2008
I have read all of Augusten Burroughs' books. Because he is so brutally honest, it's easy to feel as if you know him when you read him. I've felt that way-- as he shares so much and obviously grows emotionally with each book. He had one of the most horrible childhoods imaginable, yet recounts those incidents with an acerbic sense of humor. As readers, we laugh-- but we laugh at the absurdity of the situation. The situation itself was often not quite as funny. It's almost amazing Burroughs survived many of the events he lived through. Another reviewer stated that he survived 'unscathed'. I wouldn't really agree-- I think he survived with some deep emotional scars. Yet, these scars haven't prevented him from managing to work through these issues to lead a worthwhile and loving life. Most people would be permanently damaged-- Augusten Burroughs is truly an incredible and insightful and lucky human being.

It seems as if only the other day I read Burroughs' last book, Possible Side Effects. Yet, I just discovered this book was published and immediately ordered it. I received it this afternoon and finished it this evening.

Not having read any of the reviews at all, I wasn't sure what to expect but I immediately noticed that this book was entirely different from all his previous books. This isn't humor-- this is an incredible memoir of living with a sociopathic parent. In his past books, he talks about his mother's mental illness, but glosses over his father's. If you read this, you can understand why. He had to be ready to write this. I imagine that writing this book must have been unimaginably painful. Some people would have NEVER been ready to write this. Consequently, it would have been impossible to really mention these events in other books without then devoting the entire book to the father. This book fills in the missing pieces you might have thought existed in Running with Scissors: A Memoir (which, up until now, I thought was the best memoir I've read). In that book, the mother comes off as the crazy one and the father may actually come off as the sometime victim. If you saw the movie Running With Scissors (a brilliant film wrongly marketed as a comedy), you might even feel some unwarranted sympathy for the father and only disdain for his narcissistic mother. However, there was so much more to his story and it's all here.

Augusten Burroughs never refers to his father as a sociopath, but his father fit the very definition. He was completely devoid of any empathy, any love, any concern; a hollow man and an empty shell-- yet full of rage and cruelty. Calculating, he was able to show a different face to the public and saved his mask of kindness for strangers. He was entirely unable and unwilling to show any care to his sons or his wife.

Burroughs recalls many specific events that occurred in his youth-- horribly frightening events that are almost too terrible to contemplate. I was actually going to include a few of these events here, but I decided to delete them. They have to actually be read in context to be believed.

There is one event, though, that Augusten has a memory of from when he was very young. This one includes helping his dad bury a body. It's remained with him for all these years and Burroughs admits he doesn't know if it's true or not. It FEELS true. For decades it has haunted him (and still does) and for years he'd check the internet for any unsolved murders in Amherst during that time frame. That one memory also caused him years of disturbing recurrent dreams where he'd be committing murder and hiding the body.

Finally, as an adult, he decided to find a way to confront his father-- hoping to find that the dream had no basis in reality. Burroughs presented an absurd scenario to his father hoping for the reaction any normal person would give. Instead, the response his father gave Augusten was chilling.

This book is difficult to read. It's one of the saddest stories I have read, yet it is ultimately uplifting, since Augusten presently has a happy and successful life-- and more importantly, a kind and gentle soul. This is the best memoir I've read and I highly recommend it.

Also recommended: The Sociopath Next Door
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on November 15, 2009
Having read all of Augusten Burroughs' books, I was hesitant to read this one after I saw some of the negative reviews. But I stand corrected. I think readers who didn't like this book were expecting the hilarity of Running With Scissors and Dry. Wolf at the Table doesn't have the funny-disturbing stories you're used to with Burroughs. Rather, the book is simply disturbing (and heartfelt at the same time). I loved this book. He is stunningly honest, and his detailing of events through the lens of a child is poignant and gripping. It really makes you realize the importance of being a good parent and how much influence, good and bad, you can have on your child.
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After I read the first several chapters of "A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father," I was a little disappointed...but only for a short while. I'm a big fan of Augusten Burroughs and have read all of his books. As a result, I was expecting another deeply disturbing yet hilariously funny memoir along the lines of "Running with Scissors" and "Dry." However, Augusten's latest book is unlike anything he's ever written. There is nothing funny about this story, which chronicles the author's relationship with his alcoholic, psychologically disturbed father. In spite of its serious tone, however, I think "A Wolf at the Table" is the best thing Augusten has ever written.

Most of the events described in this book took place early in Augusten's life, before he turned 12 years old. If you've read any of the author's previous books, you know that his family life gives a whole new meaning to the word "dysfunctional." Augusten has written in detail about his mentally disturbed mother and her crazy therapist (who ended up being Augusten's legal guardian for a while). Until now, Augusten never went into much detail about his father, except to say that he was an alcoholic who would often engage in violent fights with his wife. In "A Wolf at the Table," Augusten describes his lifelong desire to connect with his father, who always seemed to wear a mask of complete indifference when it came to his son. Not only was Augusten emotionally neglected by his father, but he was also abused...just not usually in the physical sense. Yes, there were times when Augusten's father hit his son so hard that little boy could barely walk for days, but those incidents don't even begin to compare to the twisted emotional games Augusten's dad (or "Dead," which is how Augusten pronounced "Dad") would play.

Augusten's father was an incredibly sick individual. He tortured his wife and children in a variety of ways. This man killed two of Augusten's childhood pets...three if you count Brutus, who mysteriously turned on Augusten and his mother at one point (at the encouragement of the father) and had to be put to sleep. At one point, Augusten's father called his son and told him he was on his way over to the house to kill him, but that turned out to be one of his most convoluted mind games of all.

Obviously, Augusten's relationship with his father had a major impact on his life. It took decades for Augusten to finally come to terms with everything that happened to him and manage to get his life on track. I'm amazed that any one person could endure so much tragedy and emerge as a survivor. For that reason, "A Wolf at the Table" isn't a grim tale at all. Yes, most of it is depressing as hell to read, but Augusten managed to make it through, and that's definitely cause for celebration.
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VINE VOICEon May 23, 2008
While I had no such childhood (or parents) as Augusten's, I can relate to and understand his desperate need for attention, affection, and approval when he was a child. As a young child, his innocent ideas of how to gain all of these things from his father are really heart-rending. When his father shoves him away when Augusten tries to hug him, the 7-year-old makes a game of it and tries to get around the interferring arms (almost as though the arms are separate from his father and it's not really his father who is pushing him away).

Another memory from the book that stands out for me after I've finished the book is when Augusten, maybe he was 7 or 8 or somewhere around there, took some old clothes from his father's closet and added some of his father's cologne and other scents familiar to his father, then stuffed the clothes into a semblance of a person. Then the child Augusten climbed into the forbidden lap of his created father and would fight not to fall asleep for fear of the consequences.

All of the questions Augusten asks his dad (which are very rarely answered), the child's hunger for not just food, but for knowledge and understanding and his place in the world (and dealing with the fear, even as a child, that he will grow up to be like his father) just made me ache.

I found nothing whiny about the details of the memories/stories told: They just felt brutally honest and told from the memory of a child: I don't know too many children who wouldn't cry or be scared when threatened, or faced with constant loss of well-loved pets or the myriad other experiences he was forced to face. The writing grabbed me and held me firm from beginning to end. I've not read a Burroughs book yet that has disappointed me.
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on December 23, 2008
I know I should post this as a comment to some of the reviewers, but I do think a bit of reflection on what constitutes a valid critic and what does not might help all of us Amazon buyers/readers.

I find it very disturbing and annoying to read so many negative critics on grounds such as: "this book lacks the wit of the others, by the same author", "he is repeating himself", "I was expecting some laughs" etc.

What this comments tell me is that there is a lot of people out there, that came to regard the literary creation the same way they regard their fast food consumption: as a producer-consumer relationship to be appraised by standards such as uniformity (the same burger, wherever you go), predictability (the same shopping/reading experience) etc. The author is, thus, transformed into a brand.

Sure, there are many authors, specially in America, that gladly adhere to this "contract" with their audiences, but this is certainly NOT something we should regard as a desirable norm for all authors. Revisiting the same material/subject many times; producing works of radically different tones/moods; amplifying the significance of personal experiences -- none of these are valid grounds for appraising, either positively or negatively, a literary work.

What would we say of Shakespeare's work if we adopted such criteria as measures of quality? Should he write only histories, and not comedies or tragedies? Should we condemn "King Lear", on the grounds that it is "too tragic" and lacks the wit of "The Merry Wives of Windsor"? Or that Lear was actually "exaggerating things"?

This is even more valid in the case of autobiographical works, such as Burroughs' book. It is entirely the author's prerogative to employ the tone that he feels inclined to, as well as the subject matter that he deems necessary to cover.

I am certainly not suggesting that Burroughs' work is as good as or as important as Shakespeare's. I'm not even saying it is good. But I do believe we would read much better, useful and intelligent reviews if we all used sensible criteria for our comments.
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VINE VOICEon May 5, 2008
Back when Burroughs released "Possible Side Effects" I complained that most of the pieces felt like leftovers, and that his comedic touch had become forced. I singled out "The Forecast for Sommer" and "The Georgia Thumper" as notable exceptions. These two stories were serious in tone and delivered with a hitherto untapped reservoir of empathy. I expressed a hope that these pieces were a promise of better things to come; with "A Wolf at the Table" Burroughs delivers on that promise.

Simply stated, this is not the self deprecating Burroughs we have come to know and love. Gone is his trademark use of outrageous humor to depict everything as absurd and mask the mind-numbing effects of gross emotional, spiritual and physical neglect. "A Wolf at the Table" is the work of a seasoned, mature writer exploring and expanding his range. The resluts are often breathtaking. Presented here are all the events that precipitated those depicted in "Running with Scissors," reported with razor sharp wit and unflinching clarity.

This small volume is not easy to take; one cringes and winces throughout. However, the end result is a wholly rewarding and illuminating reading experience.
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on December 1, 2008
I read this book in two days because it was so harrowing and riveting. The author grew up in a household with a depressed mother and a cold, uncaring father who showed signs of being a psychopath. It's amazing that Burroughs survived with all of his intellgence and sanity intact. There may be some people who think that households like this do not exist, but they will have to think again. The more people that survive child abuse and speak out about it, the better. Burroughs has done a great service and has created beautiful, horrifying art at the same time. Highly recommended.
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on January 7, 2011
Obviously this isn't your prototypical Augusten Burroughs book. It's not Running With Scissors, that's for damn sure. If anything, this book is closer to his vivid (and completely accurate) descriptions of crack and alcohol withdrawal in his 2004 drunk-a-log 'Dry'.

In fact, this may be the best writing of entire his career. I'm not saying it's his best book, because it's not - or, rather his most "enjoyable" book, that is. But his frighteningly evocative portrayal of a sociopathic and alocholic father is not only successful but unexpectedly haunting as well. It had a profound affect on me while reading it, and has stuck with me since. It's a dark, dark book. The pictures painted in my mind are horrific.

My only complaint: this is not a memoir of his father. I'm not sure why he calls it that. It's a memoir of his early childhood with a focus on his relationship with his father. But that's really it.

I think people read too much into this "is it true or not" issue. I think it's made pretty clear that this book is written from the perspective of a young child, and therefor should be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, I have no doubt that the author may have very well felt these experiences to be true. But the question of whether or not they are...whether or not the dream he had where he helped his father bury a dead body in the woods as a young boy was actually real, or whether or not his father was really chasing him in the woods...the ambiguity he places on these events is the most intriguing aspect of the book, I think. It really creates a sort of psychological horror story.

Anyways, it's a great book. Expertly written. I give it two thumbs up.
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From the author of Running with Scissors: A Memoir and Dry: A Memoir, we are now gifted with another piece of the puzzle.

Oftentimes, a tragic childhood is recounted once, but this author has granted us more than one glimpse, choosing instead to offer pieces of the full picture in each book. I believe that the whole plate, served up all at once, would create such a horrific reaction from readers that we couldn't bear it.

This tale begins with the author's memories, from a very early age, but with major blanks--from ages two to about five--when he can scarcely remember much of anything about his father. But he recalls other events, showing the reader that memory was alive and functioning from an early age.

Throughout the book, the writer also describes events that feel like memories, but which he cannot completely validate. I believe that this is classic in cases of severe child abuse--in fact, at several points along the way, the author hints at additional abuse by describing feeling his father's presence hovering over him in his bedroom at night. Even at the end of the book, he does not fill in these gaps. Either the memories were never retrieved, or he is unable to verify their accuracy. Like the "memory" he keeps feeling that he had accompanied his father while he "buried a body."

This was such a chilling tale that I could not dismiss the feelings of so much more to be told. And the author's own history of substance abuse lends credence to some additional, possibly more violent abuse.

Having worked for years with victims of child abuse, I found this story "clicked" with what I have learned over the years. And while some may find the events described as "unbelievable," I had no difficulty visualizing any of the experiences he described.

He is to be applauded for his strength--to survive these experiences is truly wonderful.

Laurel-Rain Snow
Author of: Web of Tyranny, etc.
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on November 11, 2011
I've read this book at a one sit and felt such a lonelyness of this poor kid. It helped me understand him better and cleared many detailes of Running with Scissors. The book is rather hard to read, sometimes it's impossibly cruel and miserable but I advise to read it just to understand kids better. And it's a very good material for psychology students.
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