The Santa flasher on the cover is only the first full frontal surprise in Augusten Burroughs's book. The man who went Running with Scissors is back with an equally reckless batch of memories, monologues, and hangover aftermaths. True to the subtitle, most of these tales of personal excess concern the holidays, when everything goes woefully and ridiculously wrong when you want it to go right.
With hilarious, heart-warming, and emotional Yule-tide tales, Burroughs revisits his childhood Christmases that seemed to bring out the best and worst in his family and friends. Burroughs reads with such ease and candor he seems more old friend than narrator. With his crisp diction, smooth delivery, and relentlessly funny material, Burroughs could easily have a new career as a performer, but for now, listeners can give thanks for this early Christmas present. A St. Martin's hardcover (Reviews, Jul. 13). (Nov.)
The popular Burroughs (Running with Scissors; A Wolf at the Table) returns with a collection of seven short stories tied together by the Christmas season that ring with his signature dark comedic style. Although they're entertaining, the stories may cause one to question how true some of them are. Beginning with childhood recollections and then moving into adulthood, he displays his own brand of sentimental attachment to elements of the holiday, such as Christmas trees and lights. (Readers not familiar with Burroughs should be warned that religion is not the focus here.) The final two stories, which discuss his relationships with significant men in his life, provide more depth than the mainly comic and rather superficial early pieces. In fact, "Silent Night," the final story, carries a sharp tone of honesty as his desire for normalcy in a chaotic life becomes evident. VERDICT Even though some readers may find the writing grotesque and offensive, Burroughs's fame and following cannot be denied. Those who enjoyed his previous memoirs are likely anticipating this release. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Stacy Russo, Chapman Univ. Libs., Orange, CA
The high priest of mortifying disaster serves up a fine selection of cringe-inducing yuletide fiascos. Burroughs (A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father, 2008, etc.) begins this gathering of Christmas nightmares with his confusion about Santa and Jesus, who he assumed were the same entity. "I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip," he writes, "but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house?" His "brief and entirely baffling period of Sunday school" failed to clarify the issue, especially since Burroughs spent most of that time eating the lead paint flecks off the aging metal toys. One Christmas, his grandparents brought him a life-sized Santa. He was so attracted to it that his innocent kisses accelerated into him eating Santa's wax face. "Even from across the room I could see the carnage that was Santa's face. I'd disfigured him, hideously," he writes. "I felt sure that even Jesus, with his love for the maimed, would turn away." Burroughs also recounts some of the vibrant repartee he shared with his mother and father after yet another failed Christmas: "You are officially free to kill each other!" he grants his warring parents. "Well, well," replies his mother. "Bravo, you hateful spoiled thing." Eventually the author's tone shows signs of empathy, a humanism toward the folks with whom he shares the mornings-after: the "Santa" he awakens next to one blackout dawn, with a "doughy body" and "small, World War II-era erection"; the street woman with whom he shares a city bench, who, when she sang, "filled the space between the flakes of falling snow and packed the air with beauty."Another winner from a master of comic timing andpoignant reflection. First printing of 500,000
From the Publisher
“In his trademark wit and self-deprecating humor . . . Burroughs compiles his favorite Christmas memories. From gnawing the face off of a life-size wax Santa to waking up beside a naked real-life Saint Nick at the Waldorf Astoria, Burroughs spares no details describing why Christmas has always been his favorite holiday.” Vanity Fair
“For those who like their holiday spirit with gallons of vodka and a heaping portion of irreverence, You Better Not Cry is at times a laugh-out-loud read. . . . Burroughs is as frank and revealing as ever. . . . Fans won't be disappointed.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Burroughs succeeds best at evoking true holiday spirit, reminding us that whatever's left after the bulbs stop twinkling, the cookies are all eaten, and the trees lose their tinsel is what's most important.” Elle
“Terribly funny, in his tragically honest style . . . You may not cry, but you'll definitely laugh.” The Miami Herald
Read an Excerpt
You Better Not Cry
t’s not that I was an outright nitwit of a child. IIt’s that the things even a nitwit could do with little or no instruction often confused me. Simple, everyday sorts of things tripped me up. Stacking metal chairs, for example. Everybody in class just seemed to know exactly how to fold the seat up into the back and then nest them all together like Pringles potato chips. I sat on the floor for ten minutes with one of the things as if somebody had told me to just stare at it. Concentrate hard, Augusten, try and turn it into an eggplant with your mind. You can do it! The other children appeared to be born with some sort of innate knowledge, as though the action of folding and stacking child-size metal school chairs was gene tically encoded within each of them, like fi ngernails or a sigmoid colon.
I seemed to lack the ability to comprehend the obvious. From the very beginning there had been warning signs.
Like every kid just starting school, I had to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance—something that would in many towns today be considered prayer and therefore forbidden; akin to forcing a child to drink the blood of a sacrificial goat or unfurl a Tabriz prayer rug and kneel barefoot on it while facing Mecca.
While I managed to learn the words, memorizing isn’t the same as understanding. And of course I was never tested on the meaning of the pledge. It must have simply been taken for granted that even the dimmest child would easily grasp the meaning of a phrase such as I pledge allegiance, especially when that phrase was spoken while standing at strict attention and facing the American flag, hand in a salute above the heart. There was so little room for misinterpretation. It was the Pledge of Allegiance, not Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Still. If one of the teachers had asked me to explain the meaning of those words—which I chanted parrot- minded and smiling each morning—they certainly would have been shocked to hear me admit that while I didn’t know exactly what it was about, I knew it had something to do with Pledge, the same furniture polish my mother used and that always, inexplicably, made me feel sunny. So each morning as I spoke those hallowed words, it was the bright yellow can with the glowing lemony scent that I pictured.
Excerpted from You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs.
Copyright © 2009 by Island Road, LLC.
Published in November 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
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