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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Nominated for the 2009 Audiobook of the Year

"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 this one never left me. And


Nominated for the 2009 Audiobook of the Year

"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 this one never left me. And sometimes…I wasn't altogether sure about one thing: was it just a dream?"

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.

Editorial Reviews

Fresh on the heels of her Newbery Honor award for Because of Winn Dixie comes DiCamillo's latest, The Tiger Rising. DiCamillo has a talent for getting inside the heads of lonely children and figuring out exactly where their pain is. In this book, we meet Rob who lives in a motel with his father as they are trying to get themselves on their feet following Mom's death. Rob is desperately unhappy as he tries to cope with his loss and finds that pretending nothing is wrong is the safest way to go. He likens it to putting all of his problems into a stuffed suitcase and sitting on the lid. School is a nightmare for Rob, where he is the victim of two awful bullies. When the principal suggests that he take some time off while a rash on his legs heals, Rob feels like he has been sprung from prison. On his last day of school two important things happen, he finds a tiger in a cage and he meets Sistine. Sistine is a kindred spirit who is also dealing with the loss of her father due to divorce. It is their friendship and the voice of reason¾an adult friend at the motel named Willie May¾that starts the healing process. Like Because of Winn Dixie, the writing is deceptively simple and sparse. The characters are well drawn and very believable. While the story is a sad one it ultimately becomes one of hope, as these two lost souls begin to mend. Artfully executed, this short novel is a treat for the heart and soul. 2001, Candlewick Press, . Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Joan Kindig
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
Gr 4-6-Kate DiCamillo's novel (Candlewick, 2001) is about the distances between people, and the giant leaps of faith that are sometimes needed to bridge those distances. Rife with symbolism, this story focuses on Rob's losses--not just of his mother who died of cancer, but his loss of his father, who is struggling with his own grief. Rob has two talents: keeping his emotions under cover, and carving wood into beautiful shapes. Life at the Kentucky Star Motel in rural Florida, where Rob's father works as a handyman, is lonely and bleak until a caged tiger appears in the woods and a new friend helps to open Rob's heart. Sistine, the new girl at school, also suffers, but she is alive with raw emotions and spunk. She and Rob form a friendship, and together they set out to free the tiger whose caged existence represents their own limited horizons. Film and Broadway actor Dylan Baker reads with a gentle drawl, changing his voice just enough to breath life into the characters. Even so, the characters remain rather contrived. In particular, the figure of the tiger is not vividly portrayed, partly because it carries more symbolic weight than the story can plausibly sustain. DiCamillo's somewhat heavy-handed symbolism leads to an inconclusive climax that ends with Rob's father shooting the tiger after Rob and Sistine release it. The sacrifice of the tiger as a condition for Rob's bonding with his father and his emergence as a character is not an ending that will appeal to animal lovers.-Emily Herman, Hutchinson Elementary School, Atlanta, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent,feralpresence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

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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Read an Excerpt

An Interview with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo's debut children's book, Because of Winn-Dixie, put her on the map, garnering a Newbery Honor award and vast public and critical acclaim. Jamie Levine of Barnes & Noble.com recently spoke to DiCamillo about her newfound success, her subsequent book, The Tiger Rising, and more.

Barnes & Noble.com: Congratulations on winning the Newbery Honor for Because of Winn-Dixie! Where were you when you heard the news? What was your reaction?

Kate DiCamillo: The Newbery Committee called me at 7am, and I had been up for a while, anyhow. As you know, there was a lot of buzz about the book, so at this point I'd started believing that it was a possibility that I might win something. For a long time I was able to go, "Oh, that's impossible," but the more people talked about it, the more I thought, What if? So, the night before was kind of like Christmas Eve when you're a kid. I kept on waking up and going, "I can't believe it's only 2 o'clock!" Finally, I got up and took a shower and I was writing when they called, because I figured I needed to just go ahead and do what I'd do on a normal day. And after I talked to them, I sat and stared at the wall for a while, and then some friends came over, and I ended up weeping on the kitchen floor. It's just been incredible and overwhelming. It's one of the biggest things that can happen in kids books. Now, each morning, I wake up and I think about it, and I think, Okay, I'm used to the idea now, but I'm really not. It's such a huge thing. When I was a kid, I knew to look for that medal on books. To think that my book will have that on its cover, and some kid will pick it up because of that, is just amazing. I can't get over it.

B&N.com: Does having won a Newbery Honor make it harder or easier for you to write now? I mean, is there more pressure -- or do you have more confidence?

KD: The pressure has been there ever since Winn-Dixie started getting reviewed. For a long time, I wrote thinking that it doesn't matter what I write because I probably won't get published. But as soon as the good reviews started coming in for Winn-Dixie and people started responding to it so much, then I had all these other things perched on my shoulder: What will my editor say? What will the critics say? Will the public like it? Before, none of those demons were there. So, everything carries a price, I guess. But hopefully I'll be able to shut them up and just go ahead and do what I want to do.

B&N.com: Well, personally, I loved your following book, The Tiger Rising. How did you come up with the idea?

KD: I also write short stories for adults. I finished a short story called "Leverage," in which Rob was kind of a secondary character. Then, for weeks after, he was kind of hanging around, and I couldn't figure out what he wanted. About the same time -- it was a couple of years ago -- there was so much rain in Florida, and Mom, who lives there, was telling me how one of the cages at the zoo had flooded and the tiger had gotten loose. And those two things connected. I thought, Oh, this is what Rob is waiting for. I just knew that those two things fit, and that's where I started. And I didn't know what was going to happen. One of the biggest and best surprises that's ever happened to me since I've been writing is when the bus stopped and Sistene got on. I thought, Oh boy, here is the person that is going to take over the story. I've never dealt with such a strong character before. And she really did want the whole book for herself, so it was a constant struggle to keep her in check.

B&N.com: Since Sistene is such a strong character, do you think you may revisit her in the future?

KD: That doesn't seem as improbable to me as going back to Because of Winn-Dixie, because I get asked that question so much: "Is there going to be a sequel?" and I think writing a sequel to Winn-Dixie would be abusing those characters. They're gone. But Sistene is still very much there, so yeah, that could be a possibility. I do feel a lot of trepidation about going back. But there's so much energy to her that I could see it happening.

B&N.com: How did you get started writing children's books?

KD: For a long time I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn't until I was 29 years old that it occurred to me that if I wanted to be a writer, I was going to have to write. So I just committed to doing two pages a day, five days a week, kind of treating it like a job. And I've been doing that since 1993. I started off with adult short stories, and still write them -- I've even have had some published in smaller literary magazines. But when I moved to Minneapolis, I got a job with a book wholesaler, and I ended up on the third floor, which was the children's floor. Serendipity, I guess. As I was filling orders, I started to pick up those books and think, I remember this. I did have that same bias that so many adult readers have: Why would you read a kids book? But I reread some of the stuff I read as a kid, and then I started branching out and reading newer stuff, like Katherine Paterson and Christopher Paul Curtis, and I just sort of fell in love with the form. And so I thought, I want to try this.

B&N.com: In Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising, the main characters are both kids coming of age without mothers. Why were you compelled to develop them that way?

KD: It's funny, I got through all the interviews for Winn-Dixie without anyone asking that question. And now that it appears twice, everyone's starting to go, "Hmmm...." My father left when I was five, and though I certainly don't think about setting out to solve some problems for myself when I write, I think that what my subconscious is doing is approaching it in a roundabout way, kind of like with a mirror image, so it's the mother who's gone. And also, in both books, the main character has it out with the father, so it's probably whatever my troubled psyche is trying to mull over.

B&N.com: Making good friends -- be it with a person or a dog -- gets your protagonists through the worst of their problems and helps them heal. Were any of your own friendships inspiration for this?

KD: Absolutely! I've never been without a best friend. They've always been very wonderful, important relationships for me, even when I was a kid. And I don't think adults always realize how much friends mean to kids. They think it's just a casual undertaking. But you're friends with someone for a reason. My friends have been a saving grace in my life.

B&N.com: Can you name a few of your favorite children's books?

KD: I have so many. One of the pivotal books for me when I started reading kids books as an adult was Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963. When I read that, I could feel the door swinging open in my mind, because it was done so well. That was a laugh-out-loud funny book that dealt with serious issues, and I thought, Wow, this is what you can do with kids books. I love Karen Hesse. Love Katherine Paterson. Same thing there when I read The Bridge to Terabithia. There are so many books for kids that I've learned from. It's not only that they're moving me deeply, but they're pointing the way.

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

New York, New York and western Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
October 23, 1965
Place of Birth:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
No formal education beyond elementary school

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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.