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

Overview

"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

Monica Holloway
Burroughs retains his capacity to move the reader: There is gorgeous writing on every page…[he] is to be commended for addressing this painful material head-on and with such sobriety…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

A searing, emotional portrait of a son who wants nothing more than the love his father will not grant him, Burroughs's latest memoir (after 2004's Dry) is indeed powerful. Absent is the wry humor of Running with Scissorsand the absurd poignancy of Burroughs's years living with his mother's Svengali-like psychiatrist. Instead, Burroughs focuses on the years he lived both in awe and fear of his philosophy professor father in Amherst, Mass. Despite frequent trips with his mother to escape his father's alcoholic rages, Burroughs was determined to win his father's affection, secretly touching the man's wallet and cigarettes and even going so far as to make a surrogate dad with pillows and discarded clothing. Only after his father's neglect-or cruelty-leads to the death of Burroughs's beloved guinea pig during one of the family's many separations does the son turn against the father. Avoiding self-pity, Burroughs paints his father with unwavering honesty, forcing the reader to confront, as he did, a man who even on his deathbed, refused his son a hint of affection. His father missed so much, Burroughs muses, not knowing his son. Luckily, Burroughs does not deny the reader such an enormous pleasure. (Apr.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Memoir about the bestselling autobiographer's father manages flashes of insight but turns into yet another baroque chronicle of Burroughs's damaged childhood (Possible Side Effects, 2006, etc.). In a dramatic early scene, his father explodes: " ‘Goddamn you,' he spit in my face. ‘Just this barrage of incessant talking on and on and on . . . you cannot simply dominate a room and the thoughts and attentions of every person in that room simply because you are in it.' " It's a completely disproportionate response to some routine toddler nagging, and the brutal spanking that accompanies it is a precursor of more abuse to come. Those familiar with Burroughs's particularly gothic familial mythos (previously focused on adolescence and early adulthood) will recognize his mother in her several manic, pill-popping appearances here. Instead of Svengali-like psychiatrists or his own self-destructive obsessions, the villain this time is the author's father, a philosophy professor and brooding drunk whose intellectual prowess only serves to further exacerbate his black moods and desire for solitude. Burroughs begins with some impressionistic early childhood memories, only getting around to any substantive consideration of his father some 80 pages into the text, when the boy becomes convinced that the man has killed his guinea pig. While Burroughs deftly builds a creepy portrait of a skulking, violence-prone predator, too often his subject is obscured by florid, overheated prose. After many pages of invective, not all of which seems warranted, the author finally demonstrates some perspective, writing, "All he was guilty of was not wanting me."A deeply felt personal essay padded to book length. Firstprinting of 500,000
From the Publisher
"Intense, sincere, and passionate, Burroughs offers a deeply felt, intimate portrait of the most disastrous period in his life.  He holds nothing back, and in fully giving voice to his emotions, he makes each moment immediate for the listener." - AudioFile

 

"In audiobook form, Burroughs's memoir is an unforgettable experience that will resonate with many." - Library Journal, Starred Review

"...There are books that were born for bells and whistles, and Augusten Burrough's Wolf at the Table is one.  This fifth memoir of abuse and excess is read, bleated, rumbled and, at times, tearfully shouted by the author himself. The audio book includes sound effects and occasional instrumental music, and it breaks new ground by presenting four songs written expressly for the productions. There is one each from Patti Smith, Ingrid Michaelson, Sea Wolf and Tegan Quin." - Washington Post

 

“I felt that because this book is different than anything I have written before, it deserved a very unique, special treatment and production.”Augusten Burroughs on A Wolf at the Table

“I wanted an audiobook for the iPod generation – for people who love books but also love music and film.  I wanted to bring the book to life as fully as possible.”Augusten Burroughs on A Wolf at the Table in Publishers Weekly

“Bestselling author Burroughs has written a brutally frank memoir about his father – his difficult, distant, miserable father – which he reads himself, effectively. Original music by Patti Smith, Sea Wolf, Ingrid Michaelson and Tegan Quin – composed for this audiobook – graces the final CD.” – Canada.com

Past Praise for Augusten Burroughs:

"A flawless audio adaptation of his alternately riotous and heartbreaking memoir.” —Publishers Weekly on Running with Scissors

 

“[Burroughs’s] performance blends self-deprecating black humor with wise-cracking confidence. His natural (or hard-learned) wit and charm keep the listener rooting for his success.” —AudioFile on Dry

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312342029
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/29/2008
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Augusten Burroughs is the New York Times bestselling author of Possible Side Effects, Magical Thinking, Dry, Running with Scissors, and Sellevision. His work has been published in more than twenty-five countries. He lives in New York City and Amherst, Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York and western Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
October 23, 1965
Place of Birth:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Education:
No formal education beyond elementary school
Website:
http://www.augusten.com

Read an Excerpt

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.


Continues...


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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