Originally published 2015-12-30: A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs | Book Review Wednesday
Most people have heard of Augusten Burroughs by now. He’s the memoirist some call a “phony” and others call “heartbreakingly funny.” He’s written several memoirs as of this writing, but the one I read at my wife’s suggestion was A Wolf at the Table.
If my father caught me he would cut my neck, so I just kept going.
That’s how this memoir of a brutalized childhood begins: with a boy trying desperately to escape the violence of a man whose delusions have started to take over every inch of his life, from the notebook perpetually in his front pocket to his propensity for wandering around in the dark with a flashlight.
The author calls his father a sociopath, and if his retelling is to be believed, I can’t say I blame him. The man is abusive in almost every way. He tortures the boy physically, mentally, and emotionally, leaving scars that would make him the perfect target for abusers and addiction, to which both he later fell prey.
When he begins the journey into his memories, Burroughs says he can remember clearly the feel of chewing a phone cord and crawling beneath a neighbor’s bushes as a young toddler, but draws a blank when he tries to remember his father.
By the end, he says he is left with so many memories that they refuse to be forgotten again. Instead, they clamor in his head like gunshots in the woods behind his old house.
This story is a tragic one, but one that isn’t as uncommon as it should be. Children live through abuse every single day all over the world. For those readers who have not been touched by parental abuse, this story might seem absolutely unbelievable.
But for those of us who know intimately the feel of a slap across the cheek, or the ominous whisper of cruelty in a small ear, it can bring back memories from our own darkest times.
I would recommend A Wolf at the Table to anyone who has lived through abuse or wants to know more about the effects it can have on a child. Augusten Burroughs has a way with words that brings you immediately into the madness of his childhood, and leaves you breathlessly trying to get away from a familiar madman by the end. Four of five stars.
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