What happens when you give a pen to a former advertising whiz who
was raised in a chaotic household by his mother's psychiatrist, who
now has sobered up, found the love of his life and is compelled to
record everything that happens to him in manic, frantic and
hilarious essays? You get the intense, occasionally bitter, and
often scary work of Augusten Burroughs. The acclaimed author of
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS and DRY has struck again with MAGICAL
THINKING, a collection of essays on everything from childhood
dreams of stardom to making babies cry to recreational steroid
That Burroughs can write laugh-out-loud nonfiction is now a given.
And MAGICAL THINKING does not disappoint on that front. That
Burroughs's work is usually tragic and uncomfortable, in addition
to funny, is also expected. Here, however, there is less pain and
more straight up humor, although a bit of melancholy and underlying
sadness is still present. Burroughs has already written the darkest
parts of his life and now is sharing everything else.
In the first essay in the collection, "Commercial Break," he tells
the story of when he was cast, as an elementary school student, in
a Tang commercial. Right away, the quality of his writing, the
uniqueness of his subject matter, and his honesty are apparent.
Vivid and detailed, like many of the stories here, this one is
funny with just a touch of Burroughs's trademark darkness.
For a slightly darker but perhaps even funnier tale, turn to "The
Rat/Thing," where he spends an evening trying to kill a monstrous
rodent in the tub of his New York City apartment.
In MAGICAL THINKING you can also find plenty of adult content (the
conservative should be wary), mostly records of sexual escapades
such as "I Dated an Undertaker." But Burroughs shows his softer
side in this collection when he shares stories about his partner,
Dennis. These are mostly sweet and personal, and, in a way,
different from tales about his family or former lovers. They are
little love stories without too much sap or saccharine. His
neuroses are still present, but padded by this healthy relationship
where it is clear he is very happy. He writes about his "last first
date" and vacations they have taken, house hunting, and the details
of their daily lives together such as watching Dennis iron. He
admits he has become "domesticated." At first it seems he is
referring to his trip to Kmart to buy an iron or cleaning the
house. But read closer and it becomes clear that what he really
means is that he is creating a healthy family for himself ---
something that, if you have read his other books, has been a long
time coming and is much deserved. These, however, tend to be the
weakest in the collection.
While MAGICAL THINKING doesn't pack the punch of his earlier
nonfiction, it is a wonderful read. Slightly repetitious in themes
and content, but honest, witty, raunchy and heartfelt, this book is
sure to please fans and those finding Burroughs for the first time.
Again, he has bared all in order to share his life with his readers
and offer us a glimpse into his crazy universe where the
housekeeper is in charge, potatoes bake in 15 minutes, you pester
telemarketers, and perform oral surgery on yourself with a
Full of twisted material culled from his life, Augusten Burroughs's
latest is outrageous, narcissistic and disturbing --- but quite
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011
Magical Thinking: True Stories