A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father

A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father

3.9 151
by Augusten Burroughs

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"When Augusten Burroughs was small, his father was a shadowy presence in his life: a form on the stairs, a cough from the basement, a silent figure smoking a cigarette in the dark. As Augusten grew older, something sinister within his father began to unfurl. Something dark and secretive that could not be named." "Betrayal after shocking betrayal ensued, and…  See more details below


"When Augusten Burroughs was small, his father was a shadowy presence in his life: a form on the stairs, a cough from the basement, a silent figure smoking a cigarette in the dark. As Augusten grew older, something sinister within his father began to unfurl. Something dark and secretive that could not be named." "Betrayal after shocking betrayal ensued, and Augusten's childhood was over. The kind of father he wanted didn't exist for him. This father was distant, aloof, uninterested." "And then the "games" began." With A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs makes a quantum leap into untapped emotional terrain: the radical pendulum swing between love and hate, the unspeakably terrifying relationship between father and son. Told with scorching honesty and penetrating insight, it is a story for anyone who has ever longed for unconditional love from a parent. Though harrowing and brutal, A Wolf at the Table will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive. It's a memoir of stunning psychological cruelty and the redemptive power of hope.

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Editorial Reviews

"As a little boy, I had a dream that my father had taken me to the woods where there was a dead body. He buried it and told me I must never tell. It was the only thing we'd ever done together as father and son, and I promised not to tell. But unlike most dreams, the memory of the one never left me. And sometimes I was altogether sure about one thing: Was it just a dream? In an interview, author Augusten Burroughs described this memoir as "a devastating, terrifying story… I had to write it for me." On his website, he described A Wolf at the Table as the book that reveals why the author of Running with Scissors was running. Scary; jolting; unforgettable.

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A Wolf at the Table A Memoir of My Father
By Burroughs, Augusten
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Burroughs, Augusten
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312342029

Chapter 1

Sitting in my high chair, I held a saltine cracker up to my eye and peered through one of the tiny holes, astonished that I could see so much through such a small opening. Everything on the other side of the kitchen seemed nearer when viewed through this little window.

The cracker was huge, larger than my hand. And through this pinprick hole I could see the world.

I brought the cracker to my lips, nibbled off the corners, and mashed the rest into a dry, salty dust. I clapped, enchanted.

The hem of my mother’s skirt. A wicker lantern that hangs from the ceiling, painting the walls with sliding, breathing shadows. A wooden spoon and the hollow knock as it strikes the interior of a simmering pot. My high chair’s cool metal tray and the backs of my legs stuck to the seat. My mother twisting the telephone cord around her fingers, my mouth on the cord, the deeply satisfying sensation of biting the tight, springy loops.

I was one and a half years old.

These fragments are all that remain of my early childhood. There are no words, just sounds: my mother’s breathy humming in my ear, her voice the most familiar thing to me, more known than my own hand. My hand still surprises me at all times; the lines and creases, the way the webbing between my fingers glows red if I hold up my hand to block the sun. My mother’svoice is my home and when I am surrounded by her sounds, I sleep.

The thickly slippery feel of my bottle’s rubber nipple inside my mouth. The shocking, sudden emptiness that fills me when it’s pulled away.

My first whole memory is this: I am on the floor. I am in a room. High above me is my crib, my homebox, my goodcage, but it’s up, up, up. High in the air, resting upon stilts. There is a door with a knob like a faceted glass jewel. I have never touched it but I reach for it every time I am lifted.

Above my head is a fist of brightness that stings my eyes. The brightness hangs from a black line.

I am wet-faced and shrieking. I am alone in the awake-pit with the terrible bright above my head. I need: my mother, my silky yellow blanket, to be lifted, to be placed back in my box. I am crying but my mother doesn’t come to pick me up and this makes me mad and afraid and mad again, so I cry harder.

On the other side of the door, he is laughing. He is my brother. He’s like me but he’s not me. We’re linked somehow and he’s home but he’s not home, like my mother and her voice.

Opposite this door against the wall, there is a dresser with drawers that my mother can open but I cannot, no matter how hard I pull. The scent of baby powder and Desitin stains the air near the dresser. These smells make me want to pee. I don’t want to be wet so I stand far away from the dresser.

This is my first whole memory—locked alone in my room with my brother on the other side of the door, laughing.

There is another memory, later. I am in the basement sitting on a mountain of clothing. The washer and dryer are living pets; friendly with rumbling bellies. My mother feeds them clothing. She is lifting away pieces of my mountain, placing them into the mouth of the washer. Gradually, my mountain becomes smaller until I can feel the cool of the cellar floor beneath me.

A form on the wooden stairs. The steps themselves smell sweet and I like to lick them but they are coarse and salty; they don’t taste as they smell and this always puzzles me and I lick again, to make sure. The thing on the stairs has no face, no voice. It descends, passes before me. I am silent, curious. I don’t know what it is but it lives here, too. It is like a shadow, but thick, somehow important. Sometimes it makes a loud noise and I cover my ears. And sometimes it goes away.

“Did my father live with us at the farmhouse in Hadley?”

I was in my twenties when I called my mother and asked this question. The farmhouse—white clapboard with black shutters and a slate roof—sat in a brief grassy pasture at the foot of a low mountain range. I could remember looking at it from the car, reaching my fingers out the window to pluck it from the field because it appeared so tiny. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t grab it, because it was just right there.

“Well, of course your father lived with us at the farmhouse. He was teaching at the university. Why would you ask that?”

“Because I can remember you, and I can remember my brother. And I can remember crawling around under the bushes at the red house next door.”

“You remember Mrs. Barstow’s bushes?” my mother asked in surprise. “But you weren’t even two years old.”

“I can remember. And the way the bushes felt, how they were very sharp. And there was a little path behind them, against the house. I could crawl under the branches and the dirt was so firm, it was like a floor.”

“I’m amazed that you can remember that far back,” she said. “Though, I myself can also remember certain things from when I was very little. Sometimes, I just stare at the wall and I’ll see Daddy strolling through his pecan orchard before he had to sell it. The way he would crack a nut in his bare hands, then toss those shells over his shoulder and wink like he was Cary Grant.”

“So he was there?” I pressed her.

“Was who where?” she said, distracted now. And I could picture her sitting at her small kitchen table, eyes trained on the river and the bridge above it that were just outside her window, the phone all but forgotten in her hand, the mouthpiece drifting away from her lips. “Yes, he was there.” And then her voice was clear and bright, as though she’d blinked and realized she was speaking on the phone. “So, you don’t remember your father there at all?”

“Just . . . no, not really. Just a little bit of something on the stairs leading to the basement with the washer and dryer and then this vague sense of him that kind of permeated everything.”

“Well, he was there,” she assured me.

I tried to recall something of him from that time; his face, his hands, his memorable flesh. But there was nothing. Trying to remember was like plowing snow, packing it into a bank. Dense whiteness.

I could remember the pasture in front of the house and standing among rows of corn as tall as trees. I could remember the smell of the sun on my arms and squatting down to select pebbles from the driveway.

I could remember how it felt to rise and rise and rise, higher than I’d ever gone before as my trembling legs continued to unfold and suddenly, I was standing and this astounded me and I burst out laughing from the pure joy of it. Just as I threatened to fall on my face, my leg swung forward and landed, and so fast it seemed to happen automatically, my other leg swung forward and I did it again—my first step!—before tumbling forward onto my outstretched hands.

But I could remember nothing of my father.

Until years later, and then I could not forget him no matter how hard I tried.
Copyright © 2008 by Island Road, LLC. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from A Wolf at the Table by Burroughs, Augusten Copyright © 2008 by Burroughs, Augusten. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Wolf at the Table 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 150 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Wolf At The Table is the follow-up Memoir to Running with Scissors. A Wolf At The Table tells the story of another type of child abuse. It tells the story of emotional abuse and the effects of it on the adult child and is a great example why a parent should not stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children. A Wolf At The Table is a must read!
Mannadonn More than 1 year ago
I decided to read this book because I was pulled in by Running with Scissors by this author. I cannot say that I loved the other book but I could not put it down. I considered it to be like a train wreck. You know you should stop looking but you just can¿t help yourself. So, here I am again¿becoming completely engaged with Augusten and his life.

Whereas Running with Scissors was like a train wreck, this book pulls at your heartstrings. This book is written with the innocence of childhood. Full of complete love and adoration for a man who refuses even the slightest glance for his poor son who only wanted to be held. Augusten would fight ¿the arms¿ and try to get past them to get to his father. He would ask questions and do everything he could for his father. His father however, refused to reciprocate this love. The most Augusten ever received from his father was an automatic ¿very much I love you too¿ at bedtime.

Though childhood innocence can protect a boy from many hurts in life, this innocence does not last forever. Unfortunately, Augusten learned too soon that something was wrong or ¿missing¿ from his father. Innocence was replaced by fear, fear replaced by terror, and terror replaced by desperation. All he ever wanted was love, compassion, approval.

Though Augusten¿s father had his own share of childhood pain and torture, the cycle must be broken at some point. This man was not strong enough to do so. The ¿games¿ repeat themselves and become more sadistic.

Finishing this book I could not help but stare at the picture of Augusten Burroughs on the back cover. His eyes seemed to pierce through me and I marveled at how this man, who survived so much, could have made something so wonderful of himself. There is something in this man that helped him survive. Could it have truly been a half loaf of bread, five slices of bologna, and a can of fruit punch that pushed him to make something of himself? Was it the love he lifted from a complete stranger that was the catalyst? Either way, Augusten Burroughs has a way with words. He pulls you in and forces you to run, terrified, through the woods with him. His sadness for the ¿outside¿ dog transcends the pages and becomes your sadness. His fears of becoming his father become your fears. This is a man who grabs hold of your spirit, emotions, your soul and he refuses to let you go. You are with him and he is with you¿always.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having read all of Augusten Burroughs' books, I was hesitant to read 'Wolf at the Table' after I saw some of the negative reviews. But I stand corrected. I think readers who didn't like this book were expecting more 'Scissors' and funny-disturbing stuff, and 'Wolf at the Table' is simply disturbing - and heart-felt at once. I loved this book. He is stunningly honest, and his detailing of events through the lens of his child self 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutley flawless. It's the first Burroughs book I've ever read and I cannot wait to read more. The ending (don't worry, I won't say exactly what happened) had me crying until 20 minutes after I had finished reading it. The imagery in the book is amazing; it's as if I was actually there with him, experiencing everything. Overall, this book was fantastic and I suggest everyone should read it.
jmepitt More than 1 year ago
I did not care for this book very much. I thought Running With Scissors was much better in terms of writing and overall entertainment. This story sort of rambled on through the rather terrible childhood of the author. At the end of it all, I felt pretty depressed and confused about the overall message of the work... if there was one. It took me quite some time to get through this book, as it did not read comfortably. Looking back, the story was rather repetitive and anticlimactic. It's hard to write a negative review considering the author is relating the very personal tale of his unfortunate childhood... but I just didn't care for it.
crowCC More than 1 year ago
I almost stopped reading your book, I wish that I could have raised you. I am 48 years old,and your story touched my heart. I only wish I could take away your pain. Your parents were so messed up. As a mother I would have held you as much as you needed. As for your father... crazy bastard, Good luck to you, much love, Connie.
Adaptoid More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book before I was familiar with Burroughs' other work. While I truly enjoy his stories, vaguely similar to David Sedaris, I would rarely consider placing one in my 'favorites' category. This memoir, however, is brilliant and disturbing on a level I find difficult to describe. I can think of very few books I've read that truly alter my emotions in such a horrible way. Don't get me wrong, this is the goal of any great horror story, but this one is set in actual events. I highly recommend, along with 'Running with Scissors.'
Larry99 More than 1 year ago
Well, they sure aren't here. In his latest memoir, Burroughs shows us what it was like to have a father in his life who was not a father. Sad, thought provoking, touching. And not many jokes.
EB23 More than 1 year ago
Whether these events truly happened or not (and I don't have any reason to doubt it), Burroughs writes in his raw, smack-slap, way. More believable than Running with Scissors. Burroughs does not strike me as a likeable fellow but I can relate with his pathos.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy Burroughs writing, but this has been one of my favorite by far. He's younger in this book than the others that I've read and as usual, it's touching, frightening and still he finds a way to make you laugh.
Dripping_Quill More than 1 year ago
A Wolf At the Table is an autobiography written by Augusten Burroughs. Burroughs writes about his experiences with his father that chill the reader to the bone. I felt like I was running away from an unseen stranger throughout the entire novel. I give it five stars, because most books cannot achieve to be real, terrifying, and heartbreaking at the same time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan and loved the book - read it in just a few hours. After reading the book it's clear why the author struggled with drugs & alchohol in his personal life. I'm sure this was a very difficult book for him to write and I know it took a lot of courage. Now I hope he's FREE. And I thought MY family was dysfunctional!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephanie66SS More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading A Wolf at the Table. The emotion level of this book is like nothing I have ever read before, to the extent that all I want to do is go find Augustin Burroughs and give him a big hug. The book was so well written, and so rich with raw emotion, that I felt like I saw everything as it was happening. This man is truly a phenomenal writer, and you would never suspect his lack of formal education while reading his work. He is just an extremely gifted writer. I strongly recommend this book, and all of Augusten's books.  
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW! You really did it this time Augusten! This IS the greatest memoir I have EVER read. NO JOKE. I could relate to some of his story, so I didnt feel alone. This made me cry.... like REALLY cry, like sobbing. I wish I could have been there to be his older sister, and protect him. *God Bless!*
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book - very suspenseful - kept me on the edge of my seat.