Perhaps 'twee' is the wrong word to use in describing the work of Augusten Burroughs, but it's the word that keeps popping into my head while reading his latest, You Better Not Cry. And I really can't describe his work since this is the only book of his I've read. For whatever reason, I've actively avoided picking up any of his previous books, instinctively knowing that I would loath each and every precocious thought, each and every half-clever-by-half phrase. And so it isn't fair of me to be so irrationally hostile towards him or his writing, but I am.
I feel the same way about David Sedaris sometimes, too, I might add. Not all the time--I sometimes quite like Sedaris' stuff, but only taken in small doses. Like weed. Plus I have a natural tolerance to Sedaris since I've been listening to This American Life for over a decade.
When a friend offered me an advance copy of You Better Not Cry, I agreed, cautiously, figuring now was as good a time as any to resume freelance book reviewing, something I stink at because if I like a book, I rave without criticism and if I hate a book I rant to the rafters. I'm never indifferent. Like or hate, rave or rant.
This book tho is just causing mild irritation. It wants to be a good book. I can see a reasonably good book inside of it, and it's almost as if Burroughs intended to leave the thing unfinished, like one of those late-period Michelangelo sculptures where he just stopped and declared it a masterpiece.
And perhaps--no, not perhaps, I am certain--I'm at a disadvantage for not reading his previous stuff. Burroughs is, I think, an autobiographical writer of half-truths. Maybe. I don't know. I know that during the James Frey fiasco a few years back, several people mentioned Burroughs' Running with Scissors in the same breath as A Million Little Pieces.
So, since he is again writing about himself and his aggressively neurotic parents, I'd perhaps benefit from a bit of background. Are we to take these tales as truth, or bent truth, or hoax? I dunno. The book begins with a perfunctory disclaimer stating that some of the identifying characteristics of certain characters were changed--but what about the identifying events?
But jesus christ, this book is so painful. Without getting specific (because for all I know I'd open myself up to a lawsuit giving away too much of the plot, since I'm not technically even supposed to have this book), I'll just say that it is a collection of short stories (essays? Who knows!) about Christmas. Seven stories. I've read three and a half. So far, each story is about little, precocious, eccentric Augusten Burroughs and his medicated mother and (allegedly) alcoholic father (I say allegedly because so far the father is the only damn character who hasn't taken a drink).
One story is about how little Augusten is convinced Santa and Jesus are the same person--Jesus goes around naked 364 days a year, li'l Augusten explains to his incredulous grandmother, but on Christmas, he puts on his best red suit. This story pissed me off. I don't know why it pissed me off, but it did. And I don't know why I was surprised to be pissed off, since the first thing I saw when I opened the book was the acknowledgments page. Note the plurality. It's a large page with the word, 'Acknowledgments' at the top, and then, beneath, the initials 'TK' in parenthesis. That's it. A singular acknowledgment that was unnecessary since the same TK was on the dedication page. And why, Mr. Burroughs, is the 'TK' a parenthetical acknowledgment?
But then there's that first story, where Burroughs spends five or so pages explaining why he thought, as a child, that Jesus and Santa were one and the same. As if no other kid has made this assumption. As if this assumption were as rare as a plural singular acknowledgment.
I have a profound hatred of this book, yet I plug on, turning page after page as the train rumbles along on the track (I can't bring myself to read it anywhere other than on the train; somehow, being a captive in an enclosed space with smelly strangers seems like the perfect place to read it). And I feel bad for having this profound hatred, because the book itself is harmless. It's just there, doing nothing, self-satisfied and content to go on and on in a perpetual state of omphaloskepsis.
And yes, I recognize the hypocritical irony of bitching about all this navel-gazing on a blog, or specifically my blog, which is itself a virtual fucking monument to self-satisfied navel-gazing. But I wanted to get it off my chest and, er, out of my navel.
That's what this book is: belly-button lint.
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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