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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
A Wolf at the Table
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on 23 June 2008
I really wanted to like this book, having had an alcoholic father myself I thought this would be something I could identify and empathise with. Unfortunately as the book went on it was more of a litany of minor crimes (didn't hug me, Didn't buy me cookies when I asked, only brought me food instead of money etc).I kept waiting for the 'monster' to emerge, whuch ultimately never happened. At the end as an adult Augusten sees another father display love to his child and burts into tears. I couldn't help but feel that he had his whole life to get over this and it was a bit wet! Will have to read his other books for context but really didn't think he had a story to tell here.
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on 17 March 2009
"Running with Scissors" was a serious, multilayered comedy that, aside from being very funny, convinced me that Burroughs had a sensitive, intelligent view of human existence. This book about his father has no particular insights on human behavior and reduces even those scenes that could have some richness and complexity to the superficial and banal. Even the pivotal scene about the guinea pig falls flat. His father is simply a neurotic, egocentric, alcoholic. His son needs him and loves him, and then hates him. So what? There are a lot of people out there with such fathers.

Perhaps the main problem with the book is that by the time Burroughs writes about his father, he has distanced himself emotionally from him in a way in which he never had distanced himself from his mother, the main object of "Running with Scissors." I didn't find "A Wolf..." dark. I found it dull, and perhaps a bit forced. I found myself doubting that the events in the book actually happened (It's presented as an autobiography), not because they are so outlandish, but rather because they are so distanced that they don't ring true.
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on 22 June 2008
Augusten Burroughs' books are synonymous with laugh-out-loud humour, self-analysis and a life so off-the-wall, they're barely believable. Having read all of his books, I couldn't wait to read his latest offering. However, while I found the book absorbing, it makes for a rather discomfitting read. Without giving the plot away, Burroughs takes us back to his childhood, when he lived with both his mother and father. Here was a childhood bereft of paternal love but moreover the book portrays a malevolent father who clearly suffered worsening mental health. This unfortunately manifested itself in some awful behaviour displayed by Burroughs' father and we are witness to a chain of events through the author's childhood. The book is clearly a catharsis for Burroughs but still has some humour blended throughout as he tries to make sense of his upbringing. Brave, poignant and at times quite disturbing.
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on 5 August 2017
So deeply saddening to read about the horror the author has endured, not unlike my own.
Grief stuck in the chest, painful and pressing. This is the hardest of all his books to read; the ending feels almost unbearably painful, and very familiar.
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on 5 May 2008
I have read all of Augusten Burroughs' books. Because he is so brutally honest, it's easy to feel as if you know him when you read him. I've felt that way-- as he shares so much and obviously grows emotionally with each book. He had one of the most horrible childhoods imaginable, yet recounts those incidents with an acerbic sense of humor. As readers, we laugh-- but we laugh at the absurdity of the situation. The situation itself was often not quite as funny. It's almost amazing Burroughs survived many of the events he lived through. Another reviewer stated that he survived 'unscathed'. I wouldn't really agree-- I think he survived with some deep emotional scars. Yet, these scars haven't prevented him from managing to work through these issues to lead a worthwhile and loving life. Most people would be permanently damaged-- Augusten Burroughs is truly an incredible and insightful and lucky human being.

It seems as if only the other day I read Burroughs' last book, Possible Side Effects. Yet, I just discovered this book was published and immediately ordered it. I received it this afternoon and finished it this evening.

Not having read any of the reviews at all, I wasn't sure what to expect but I immediately noticed that this book was entirely different from all his previous books. This is an incredible memoir of living with a sociopathic parent. In his past books, he talks about his mother's mental illness, but glosses over his father's. If you read this, you can understand why. He had to be ready to write this. I imagine that writing this book must have been unimaginably painful. Some people would have NEVER been ready to write this. Consequently, it would have been impossible to really mention these events in other books without then devoting the entire book to the father. This book fills in the missing pieces you might have thought existed in Running with Scissors: A Memoir (which, up until now, I thought was the best memoir I've read). In that book, the mother comes off as the crazy one and the father may actually come off as the sometime victim. If you saw the movie Running With Scissors (a brilliant film wrongly marketed as a comedy), you might even feel some unwarranted sympathy for the father and only disdain for his narcissistic mother. However, there was so much more to his story and it's all here.

Augusten Burroughs never refers to his father as a sociopath, but his father fit the very definition. He was completely devoid of any empathy, any love, any concern; a hollow man and an empty shell-- yet full of rage and cruelty. Calculating, he was able to show a different face to the public and saved his mask of kindness for strangers. He was entirely unable and unwilling to show any care to his sons or his wife.

Burroughs recalls many specific events that occurred in his youth-- horribly frightening events that are almost too terrible to contemplate. I was actually going to include a few of these events here, but I decided to delete them. They have to actually be read in context to be believed.

There is one event, though, that Augusten has a memory of from when he was very young. This one includes helping his dad bury a body. It's remained with him for all these years and Burroughs admits he doesn't know if it's true or not. It FEELS true. For decades it has haunted him (and still does) and for years he'd check the internet for any unsolved murders in Amherst during that time frame. That one memory also caused him years of disturbing recurrent dreams where he'd be committing murder and hiding the body.

Finally, as an adult, he decided to find a way to confront his father-- hoping to find that the dream had no basis in reality. Burroughs presented an absurd scenario to his father hoping for the reaction any normal person would give. Instead, the response his father gave Augusten was chilling.

This book is difficult to read. It's one of the saddest stories I have read, yet it is ultimately uplifting, since Augusten presently has a happy and successful life-- and more importantly, a kind and gentle soul. This is the best memoir I've read and I highly recommend it.

Also recommended: The Sociopath Next Door
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on 22 August 2009
I read this book with "Magical Thinking" and "Running with Scissors" already under my belt. I liked the first but loved the second and was looking forward to more of the same in "A Wolf at the Table". But I've been left disappointed. Somehow Burroughs never get into his stride in this memoir. The book takes a while to warm-up and then it peters out with no pith in the middle. "Running with Scissors" is a gourmet feast. "A Wolf at the Table" leaves you hungry. Burroughs portrait of his father is disturbing, but it's barely believeable as he is too one-dimensional. He's painted as a baddie in every sense with no redeeming features or any humanity. It's just too obvious to be true, from his scaly, red-raw body to his ability to kill family pets. Normally Burroughs's characters are flawed and layered, lapsing from sanity to madness and you come along for the ride. This one merely plods. The book fills in a few gaps and answers a few questions left bare in "Running with Scissor", but overall it's not Burroughs at his best.
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on 30 November 2013
I first found Burroughs through Running with Scissors, which is laugh out loud funny. His early life is dysfunctional, and the subject matter is dark, but the characters are described in a way that makes it easy to swallow. So I felt like I knew boy Augusten a little bit, a smart mouthed kid who somehow rode the crest of the crazy people he lived with. And then I read Dry and some of his essays, and then I found this. And it is unutterably, beautifully, dreadfully, horribly sad. Augusten is a little boy prey to the Big Bad Wolf, who he loves, and who constantly rejects him and who, as the book progresses, becomes more malevolent and scary (without actually doing anything obviously, legally vile).

I have children, and I have to say I have been a little kinder since I read this book. It is told so well from the child's perspective, how being too tired, too old and too bored can seem to your kid. I wanted to fix it for Augusten in a way I didn't with the other books, and am only glad I read some of his essays to know that he seems to be OK now.

So to summarise, not a laugh a minute, but gripping and worth reading.
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on 13 February 2012
I absolutely love this author,I have read every thing of his to date.He makes me laugh out loud as well as identifying with some of the darker aspects of his life. Fortunately, I don't identify with this particular aspect of his life,I had a satisfactory,usual run of the mill relationship with my father.AB struggled even to get the basics of responses from his clearly, inadequate father.
I pitied his pitiful attempts to get his fathers attention,it was obvious AB was a loving,if a little demanding, child, but the rejection of his father hurt him to the his core.
His fathers antics towards his beloved pets made me sick,and I lost all sympathy for a character that could treat both animals and children so callously.
When I could see where the ending was going I was crying buckets.for him, and all the other little boys who have been denied their fathers love, for whatever reason, in this case I think alcoholism and some kind of metal illness was the fault.I agree its a bleak read,when he discovers he inadvertently had been addressing his dad ( for years) as 'dead' it was both warply hilarious and deeply sad.
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on 12 August 2008
This could be dismissed as just another tragic life story. And if you expect it to be as light and self mocking as his previous books, all of which I've read, you will be disappointed. But it is the sheer magic of his writing that moves me. If writing is communicating then for me he does it in spades. Small birds have eyes "like little seeds" and when a young friend disappears from his group in a crowd, the three remaining hunt for him frantically like "ballerinas on their individual music boxes". It is the story of his relationship, or lack of, from his cold father living in his dysfunctional family. It's not much of a giggle. The final scene, when, in adulthood, he witnessed the love a father feels for his son first hand moved me so much I could not describe it to a friend without breakding down. I don't care whether this is true or not; that hardly matters. It's not what he says but how he says it. I've tried to read two books since and tossed them aside. He's a mighty hard act to follow.
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on 3 February 2016
[slight spoilers ahead] I wasn't expecting a comic read, having never come across the author before, but I didn't expect to relate to it quite as much. I started this book as part of a journey to understand sociopathic fathers, and this helped. It's not the author whining about a troubled childhood, everyone has their own stories, it's taking the reader on a journey into a dark and difficult time only a child of a sociopath can truly understand. Augusten does a good job of providing context, and showing how in later life it's not a long drawn out story of one thing leading to another. It's the little things happening over and over, that only those close can see, which has such a huge impact. It's also a bit of hope thrown in for good measure. All round a good read, for those that remember it's context.
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