by Augusten Burroughs
St. Martin's Press, 2004
As I've mentioned before, I'm a pretty big fan of Augusten Burroughs. I loved Running with Scissors, I thought it was a beautiful, hysterically funny book; and I thought Dry was quite good as well. I've defended Burroughs' choice to make his horrible childhood experiences and his battle with alcoholism at once poignant and comical, and I admire his ability to do so.
That being said, Magical Thinking is a whole other thing. It's a more mature, reflective Burroughs that shows through the stories that make up this book. It's a more likable Burroughs, who has, in some way, gotten past some of his baggage. And it's great stuff.
The stories in the book aren't chronological--they skip backwards and forwards in time, from Burroughs' childhood and adolescence through his drinking years to his present and around again. This is a bit confusing at first (causing me to think, among other things, that the person who turns out to be Burroughs' partner, Dennis, is a posthumous look at the same person as his friend Pighead, who is featured in Dry), but once you realize that's what Burroughs is doing, it makes sense. In some ways, it makes it easier to see his increased maturity and self-awareness in the more recent stories. And knowing that he, in some sense, "made it," that he's happy and successful in the more recent stories, makes the heart-rendering earlier ones a bit easier to listen to and to see the humor in.
Though it is easier to handle than his previous memoirs, Magical Thinking is still Augusten Burroughs, and so isn't for everybody. He still doesn't shy away from hard topics, or from shining the light on his own flaws. One story, "The Rat Thing," is a long exposition on his torturous killing of a rat he finds in his bathroom (when he's still drinking). It's nasty. It's hard to listen to. But it's still funny, in the way only truly awful things can be. As always, though, if you are someone who believes that there are some subjects that are never funny, this book probably isn't going to do it for you.
One of my favorite parts of the audio book (and I again recommend "reading" Burroughs on audio book, as he's got a great voice and tells his own stories so well) is the "bonus" at the end--a short interview of Burroughs, done by his literary agent. Here, in Burroughs' rambling answers to the agent's questions, you get a bit of insight into how his writing develops, and how he thinks about his own life and the very dark humor in his past. If you have any lingering guilt about finding humor in his horrible stories (which I really didn't, but could have), you lose it when you hear him say that he doesn't find his childhood difficult to talk about, but that he sees humor in it. He goes on to explain that he's really a very average type of person, who just seems to have had a magnet for disaster in his early life. He doesn't seem to regret this, just accept it. It's fun to listen to him talk. He seems very naturally funny and comfortable in his own skin, and if you've listened to or read much of his work, you know it took him a long time to get there.
So I'd recommend Magical Thinking to anyone who likes Burroughs' other books. I'd also say it's probably the best of the three memoirs to start with if you are new to his work. Work your way up to Running with Scissors.