Sunday, July 30, 2006

Augusten Burroughs, "Magical Thinking"

I really had no intention of ever reading Burroughs. I'm naturally skeptical about "the hottest thing" on the New York Times Bestseller list. If I had to hear another NPR commentator tout the author's breakthrough book (Running with Scissors), I was just going to switch to the vast wasteland of AM radio. I really don't need to hear the story of yet another obsessive-compulsive with a litany of difficult childhood tales, and the accompanying story of how they have overcome it with dark humor and chutzpah. But events conspired to place this (other) book in my hands despite my best efforts to avoid it... this book that was obviously written to piggyback off his bestseller and extend the author's alloted 15 minutes of literary fame.

To its credit I have to admit that it was a fast read. I would assume this applies to the majority of recent entries in the inexplicably trendy "memoir" category. The attention span of the American public demands this. So what we find in "Magical Thinking" is a series of short pieces surrounding amusing events and anecdotes in Burroughs life- or to be more precise... whatever was left of marginal interest that he didn't include when he blew his magical load on his "masterpiece".

A few things you should know about the author: He is gay and proud. He is caustic. He doesn't like children. He's a dog-lover. He's spent a lot of time in the NYC advertising world. He is a recovering alcoholic. And he is consumed with himself.

Even the major characters in his life receive pithy nicknames as reward for their contributions to Burroughs' story. But I suppose self-absorption is also very trendy in the United States. And that bodes well for the author's goal of becoming wildly famous. Yet it also presents problems that Burroughs is hardly properly equipped to deal with. Now he has to deal with all those pesky fans approaching him on the streets of Manhattan. The upside of this dilemma is that he now has fodder for yet another book about the petty annoyances of exposure to a larger circle of humanity.

I did learn a few things from this book... and with these realizations I will leave you.

1. Hip gay men are flocking to their primary physicians seeking prescriptions of illicit steroids, so that they can grow man-booby-like biceps and actual firm man-boobies. This practice leads to mood swings and testosterone rages, just like in straight men.

2. Hip gay couples are flocking to adoption agencies to acquire children with the same zeal that they pursued Shar-pei dog-breeders in the eighties.

3. The Barbizon modeling schools of the 80's were a rip-off scam.

4. Not all gay men were born with facilities to properly design and maintain a hip urban space. Some of them are just as piggish as straight men.

5. A gay man wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie can be just as reprehensible as a fratboy wearing the same brand. In fact it may be worse, because it is a breach of one of the few positive stereotypes commonly attributed to gay men in our society... that they dress well. Burroughs does the gay community an obvious disservice in his dust-jacket photo.

6. Augusten Burroughs knows how to spend your money with taste and discretion, so don't borrow the book from the library, like I did.

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