I’ve often heard the old cliche “don’t judge a book by its cover” and I can say with absolute honesty that most of the time I don’t. With the majority of books in the bookstore facing inwardly towards the shelves I most often judge a book by it’s spine and it has served me well thus far. It’s a completely random process as I browse the rows and rows of thousands of books waiting for something to catch my attention and last month in Barnes & Noble a book titled “A wolf at the Table” did just that. I liked the edgy title and upon picking up the book realized the author was the same guy who wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller, “Running With Scissors,” a book I own but haven’t read yet. This book I held in my hands was described on the back as “the author’s unspeakably terrifying relationship between a sociopathic father and a son yearning for unconditional love.” I was hooked and I bought the book very excited to read it, and last week I opened it up and was swept up in the story of Augusten Burroughs and his rough childhood.
I went in with the expectation that I would hear an account of a physically abusive father, something I can relate to as I wrote about my relationship with my stepfather in a previous blog, and while there was a horrifying instance where his father beat him, that was not the focus of the story. “A Wolf at the Table” focused more on the mental abuse and mind games his father doled out on him as a young boy while he tried without luck to be loved by this monster. Burroughs recounted how excited and anxious he was every day waiting for his father to return home from work. He paced the house frantically, peering out windows looking for the familiar car coming down the driveway. Each day as his dad walked through the door he lunged at him desperate for his love; maybe today his father would hug him back, but it always ended the same way with his father pushing him aside and walking past him to the bottle of vodka that he loved more than his family.
The author talked about his pets and the three that wound up dead because of his monstrous father. Over the course of the chilling tale he realized the unsettling truth about his dad and though they kept in touch over the years, they never had a proper relationship. It was heartbreaking to read about a kid that wanted more than anything something a lot of people take for granted but something he never felt. This memoir was written eloquently and Burroughs storytelling ability mirrored one of my favorite writers, Dave Eggers. His words were truly a pleasure to read and it was a shame when the book ended. I can however take comfort in the fact that Burroughs has written several other books and I can look forward to reading his words in the future. If you haven’t read anything by Augusten Burroughs I highly recommend that you pick up “A Wolf at the Table” and I guarantee you will be hooked. It was a fast paced story covering his sad childhood that ended with him as an adult looking back and remembering the hurt. It’s a quick read that hooks you on the first page as he runs through the woods behind his house late at night, terrified of what will happen if his father catches him. Of all the books I’ve read this year, Wolf is the one I give my strongest recommendation. Luckily, most people don’t grow up this way but it’s important to know about those who do, if not for anything else than to gain a better appreciation for the people who raised you. A diary excerpt in the last chapter of the book discovered after his father’s death shows the kind of monster that he was and gave me chills as I read the words. Do yourself a huge favor and get “A Wolf at the Table” today.