Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Wolf at the Table, by Augusten Burroughs

I bought the CD version of this book because it looked interesting. I had not read anything else by Burroughs, and I understand this is a departure. The book is read by the author, which seemed a good thing.

I am not sure about that last at this point. Burroughs has recorded his other books as well, on CD, in his "normal voice", according to him. In interviews with him and at the end of this edition, he talks about how he wanted this one to be different. He doesn't talk about his voice, but instead about the music interweaved throughout. He asked several contemporary musician friends to read the book and to write something based on it, and they did. So we are treated to original music along with the words. Good music, worth hearing.

To me there isn't anything earthshaking about adding music to an audio book. It is done all the time. Clearly most of the time the music is not written specifically for the book, of course.

What is striking is Burroughs manner of speaking. He speaks carefully, enunciating every word, and he has a habit of reading with this pattern:

[In a low, almost flat, yet intense voice, each word carefully pronounced] He stood [pause] waiting in the doorway [pause] for my eyes [pause] to meet his ["his" emphasized]. For a taste of the reading style, watch and listen to this excerpt on Amazon.

His habit of enunciating every sound, as if every word was precious and could not be let go without a fight, made me, at times, mad with frustration. "Get on with it!" I yelled, flailing my free hand at the CD player in my car. His manner of speaking overpowered the story itself so much that I had trouble deciding if I liked it.

I think I liked it.

It is a memoir about Burroughs's father, a cruel, insidiously cruel man. A man so wrapped up in his own world and so oblivious to the needs of others that he let a horrible disease build up in the family dog, never willing to take it to the vet. A man so frugal he could not abide the purchasing of small treats for his son - or, obviously, the visit to the veterinarian so badly needed. A man who clearly is disgusted by this son who appears more like a girl than a boy. A man capable of subtle threats. A man who plays games.

Listening to it at times made me cringe. At one point I even skipped a small section because the horror was beyond what I wanted to bear.

Perhaps it's a testament to the resilience of children, but I am happy to report that it isn't all smiles at the end. This kind of childhood is going to leave marks. And as is so often the case with abusive parents, the child is left clinging to a need for approval that he will never get.

Worth reading, I suspect, more than listening.

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