The blurb from USA Today on the cover of my book calls Burroughs "screamingly funny," so I expected this book to be laugh-out-loud funny. It wasn't. Not that it doesn't have it's moments, mind you, but it's not a laugh riot. There were several points while reading this book that I had the thought, "This man is mentally unstable." And then I would read Burroughs's own suspicions of his mental instability.I think some of my favorite essays are "The Rat/Thing," "Beating Raoul," "Ass Burger," and my absolute favorites "I Kid You Not" and "Telemarketing Revenge." I loved "I Kid You Not" because I see myself in this one. If I discovered I had accidentally stepped on a kid's hand, I would have been out of there in a shot. And the bit on the plane? Been there. And while I haven't pulled that kind of stunt with a telemarketer, it's the kind of stunt I wish I would have pulled. I do find it ironic that he was soliciting penis pictures in this essay, while a hundred or so pages later, he was complaining about people sending him penis pictures simply because he's a gay famous person.I did find, though, that I kept having the feeling that I was missing something by not having read Running With Scissors or Dry. All the references to things that had happened to when he was a kid living with the psychiatrist or while he was an alcoholic that didn't go into details made me crazy. On the one hand, I'm sure that's because he's already gone into all that, and people who have read the other books don't need the repeat. On the other, I'm sure it's a great way to boost sales of those other two books, don't you think?As a side note, back in May of 2003, when I had the excellent fortune to go to Book Expo America, I got to briefly meet Augusten Burroughs. He was signing paperback copies of Running With Scissors, which had been getting very good press at the time and sounded interesting, so I dragged sophistikate over to his table and we got copies. There wasn't anyone at his table so we got to chat for a moment. He was very shy, didn't really make eye contact, and I could tell he wasn't very comfortable, so we didn't talk very long. His persona in these essays really caught me off guard because it was nothing like the guy I saw at BEA! But I have to wonder if he was waiting for one of us to tell him about the time our parents gave us a Dr. Pepper enema.
As for the whole mental instability thing.... I think that he does grapple with it throughout the book. Certainly, there are times that he tries to laugh at himself or to get you to laugh along with him, but I think that these moments are balance with a healthy dose of reality about his own mental health. I hate reviews like the one you mentioned because they set you up to expect one thing, leaving you disappointed if the book doesn't meet the hyperbolic praise on the cover. I know why editors post these on the books, but in the end I feel they do more harm than good. I mean, do you think your opinion of the book would have been different if instead of "screamingly funny," the cover had said "a sometimes humorous, sometimes sad look at one man's struggle with mental health"? Enough about that though. On to the book!I liked "The Rat/Thing" because it reminds me of G-Diddy's scary apartment in Oklahoma. There were actual phone calls that would go like this: Charlasweb: So, how was your day?G-Diddy: Oh, pretty good. We.... Hang on, I just heard something.Charlasweb: What? Do you see anything?G-Diddy: Oh, gross. I think it's in the kitchen.Charlasweb: Hello? Are you still there.... (Hears: Crash! Bang! Dammit!! Shatter! @^#$%@%!!!)G-Diddy: Okay, I'm back. I got my bat after him and cornered him in the sink. I broke a plate though.Charlasweb: You need to move. That place should be condemned.G-Diddy: I know, but the rent is cheap.Charlasweb: That's because you're sharing your home with vermin.So, you get the idea, right? I also like the ones he wrote about relationships: Ass Burger, Shnauzer, My Last First Date. Maybe this is because I have read Running with Scissors (although I haven't read Dry) and am shocked that he's actually able to form semi-stable relationships as an adult. Plus, these come across as more genuine to me, less forced. There are a few of his essays where I feel like he's trying too hard to be "screamingly funny," and that pretty much ruins them for me. The ones about his partner and his brother just seem much more honest. I also liked the one about his maid, Debby. I can't remember the name of the essay and I already took the book back to the library. I think I did laugh out loud at that one. Well, it's 11am and I really should get a shower before G-Diddy gets home from work. :) More later, maybe.
I do think my expectations would have been very different if it weren't for that blurb. I did enjoy the book very much, but I was expecting it to be funny. Really funny, not just occasionally amusing. In actuality it was more introspective and in places almost heartbreaking in its honesty. Burroughs takes an unflinching look at himself and the things he does, which I really like. I have to wonder if the person who found this book (and maybe the blurb wasn't even about this particular book; who knows?) "screamingly funny" sort of missed the point. Or just has a really strange sense of humor. I do wonder if my opinion would have been different. Ultimately, I loved it, and probably will go back and read his other ones (or the new one, which I saw at Target in hardcover yesterday), but for the first hundred or so pages of this one, I kept thinking, "Um, where's the stuff that's screamingly funny?""The Rat/Thing" reminds me of the way I act when I find spiders in the bathroom. Not nearly as gross as whatever he found, but I still don't want to touch them. And after that last incident in the bathtub, I still haven't taken another bath. It's been strictly showers for me, babe.You know, I don't even have to have read Running With Scissors to be surprised that he's able to form semi-stable relationships. Just reading the first half of this book does it. When I saw the new book last night, I checked the credits on the author photo to see if it was also taken by Dennis Pilsits, just so I could see if they were still together. I know it's not conclusive proof, but it made me happy to see that, at least at the time the dust jacket was being designed, they were still together.