Thoughts of an Author in Training
This was a terrifyingly true tale. I kept flipping pages and with each turn I cringed a little at how it couldn’t possibly be true, but it was so outrageous that it couldn’t have been made up. Burroughs is shuffled through multiple outlandish family situations in his life, including most identifiably his mother’s psychiatrist.
He’s tricked in to staying with the Finches sporadically while Augustine’s mother alternates safe houses in hiding from Mr. Burroughs a brutal drunk. But she eventually turns Augustine over to the Finches in an official adoption, while she continues to give in to mental cacaos and moves in with her young lesbian lover. Of course none of this is consensual with Augustine. He despises the Finches for being exactly the opposite of a June Cleaver family which he always dreamed his family would be like. The only identifiable positive effect of the Finch family is that Augustine feels comfortable in exposing his sexual desires for men but he promptly loses his virginity against his will to the oldest Finch, Neil. They’re nearly ten years apart, Augustine being only 13, but the atmosphere of the Finch house allows such “freedom.”
The book is put together in such a flawless manner that the progression of the story developed its own logic. It was a logic that I fought in the beginning but as he has no choice but to live with the crazy Doctor’s family I began to support his radical actions in only being a child. Burroughs maintains a balance between the graphic details of an all-American-family nightmare and the development of self identity. He does this with a dark comedic voice which helps to smooth out the roughness of this true tale. Without the voice and just the facts this tale would be difficult to master because there’s so much pain. Reading about the impure destruction of childhood is not an easy topic but he managed to create an open allegiance to his readers that I kept coming back to.
This was another side of Burroughs childhood, the perspective of a physically and emotionally abused son by his father. It’s amazing the detail and recollection that the author is able to put in this story. He musters 200+ pages about his parental relationship when he previously wrote 200+ pages in Running With Scissors, also a book about his family dynamic. This one is solely focused on the sharp relationship between gay opinionated son and drunk homophobic dad. Sexuality makes the subtle difference between Augustine and his autistic brother in the eyes of their father.
Again a horrifying tale to read because I couldn’t comprehend that someone could have such destructive feelings towards their own children. The book covers from when Augustine was a young clean-cut boy up until the death of his father. His childhood is riddled with fears of his father’s abuse. His drinking habits and rage against his wife often meant Augustine was in the middle choosing sides while his older brother and protector had moved out of the house. Augustine was beat for talking or giving affection to his father when he came home from work. He was ridiculed for his sexuality and was almost killed when his father charged the family car towards a tree while Augustine was in the Passenger seat. Luckily he jumped out before the impact of the car. These destructive events damaged any normal mentality that a child would have about their parents, quite frankly I don’t know how he turned out after any parental or adult figure abused his sanctity.
As the book consistently narrates decades of Augusten’s life we see the vicious cycle of wanting a father’s approval, but never getting it. The protagonist goes through hating and wanting, needing and denying while his father seems to care more about the contents of a paper bag than the breath of his son. The whole time I wanted nothing to do with the father in the story, but like Augusten’s predicament we couldn’t escape. He was there at every turn of the page and even as he grew up to get a high-paying job in advertising, there was no escape. Augusten would call his father to complain, promote or console his day. His mother had pushed herself over the edge of sanity, so his father, though destructive and disapproving, was the parent at the end of the day.
This book gave a great deal of background on the author. It was also a catalyst in my understanding of loss and replacement. As a human being he didn’t have comfort in feeling safe, healthy, educated and secure, he might have had them in some way but not in a traditional sense. There was no grace period of what we would call childhood in order for Augusten to safely make mistakes and inquire some guidance. His void is something that I will never be able to fully place myself in his shoes for. Yet his elegance in writing and courage in story telling lets me empathize what it’s like when your father, on his death bed, “would not, at the very end, give me even on word.”
To this I admire that these tales are not all attention. They don’t scream me, me, me or aim to be pathetic sob stories. Truly they are sad but he has a way with writing that you can see how much it’s affected his character, but developed his sensitivity to what life means. He’s the most realistic and truthful story teller. I don’t mean that just because it’s non-fiction, but he breaks through a level and comfortable style in writing to develop a good story. We feel distressed, but hopeful, he leaves you saying wow. As a writer I admire that it’s not only a wow of disbelief in the plot but in the ability to but it all on paper. He writes it as if it was just a bad dream, something outside of himself. The barrier he’s put up to neglect any further harm to his life, as most humans from trama do, is represented by the pages of his books. Having it on paper is a therapy in its own, maybe if it’s on the page it’s no longer holding me back.
He’s a successful writer who understands the power of language. A good story is not sympathy it’s passion and truth. Even in fiction there has to be truth to what you’re creating. The characters have to believe their world as truth. This tale was disgustingly beautiful but full of certainty and it was addicting. It’s like when people pass a wreck on the side of the road, they’re scared and plagued knowing they should look away, mind their own business, but they can’t and they don’t. This book was a major car crash.
I could definitely predict by the end of the first two novels that Burroughs was destined to cling to the bottle. I can’t really blame him after the obstruction of his childhood, his parent’s marriage, living with a crazy psychiatrist’s family and a slew of dangerous relationships. They say that alcoholism is hereditary which explains the one commonality between father and son. But this book was nothing like I’d experienced in the previous self destructive drug/alcohol novels. James Frey, sorry to say but Burroughs wins this round.
Frey detailed in his memoir A Million Little Pieces, which has been exposed as more fiction than non, a struggle of substance abuse and fluctuating mental stability after sobriety. It was disheartening and sad but it lacked a social standing. I didn’t feel like his story mimicked the hundreds of addict tales I’ve read. However, I fully believed and understood every sentence of Dry. The denial, the struggle, the relapse, the relationships, the conclusion, all of it underlined a more realistic view on the struggle of addiction. It never ends in a neat a tidy bow. Frey says that he never relapsed and that is acceptable. But the statistics of recovery from addiction are very slim and Burroughs struggle was more what I expected. Augusten focuses more on his life surrounding addiction rather than the details of rehab itself. Maybe the difference between the two authors is that one didn’t have too much to tell about life outside of rehab and one did, but besides that I couldn’t turn away from Burroughs struggle beyond the program.
His details are so graphic, but he’s never to showy. He doesn’t include details just for the hell of it. Again you want to turn away as he describes the binge drinking and anonymous sex, the shock therapy and bullying but it’s made its way in to the pages of the novel for a reason. Sometimes I want to think I know everything about his character because of how much I’ve read, all the background and anecdotes, but he still mystifies much of his emotion. He’ll input here or there how a situation makes him want to drink or that he’s angry, but the vulnerable situations we’re left to imagine how we would feel. How as a person who’s never experienced being forced in to rehab would make us truly feel. I think that’s part of the beauty in his writing, that he doesn’t have to say I am sad, I’m disgusted, I’m confused we can just see and we’re baffled more by his non-reaction than any reaction at all.
The balancing of relationships is what’s so interesting in this book. A great story obviously has to include character involvement and development as we’ve seen in his other works, but this one interjects surprise relationships and wanders in various directions, outside the focus of rehab. We find out that one of his most intimate relationships, though fairly one sided is plagued with Aids and the destiny of death. He discovers a best friend in rehab and loiters with a dangerously attractive recovering heroin addict from AA. The triangle dynamic allows for a story to develop. It’s so strategically planned. Even though its non-fiction he understands what pieces of his life will fit together to make us wonder and awe. He works it so that you’re rooting for a heroin addict, despising a long lost lover, befriending recovering drunks and so dramatically flips it all in the last few chapters.
Everything. That is what I will take from this book. It’s only one word but in the contexts of the book it was the most perfect phrase. For a desperate father and drug-using son, the phrase everything was their replacement of “I love you.” Sometimes they didn’t know how they felt, love was never simple it never meant just one thing. They could be happy, sad, and angry all of this backed up by a sense of love. So they simply said “everything” before departing from one another. It seems a more suitable solution than I love you because, “Love cannot exist for long without the dimension of justice.”
This book was one of a kind. I’ve read a fair share of addiction and recovery novels recently, but not from the perspective of the family and those struggling with an addicted family member. I’ve seen the affects in my day to day life, knowing a family struggling with a daughter subject to her addiction, but I never knew the depth that it took. Beautiful Boy outlines from birth to present the struggle that one family has in trying to stop their son from giving in to addiction. You come to love and care for Nic the protagonist but hate him simultaneously. How could an 18-year-old rob his five-year-old brother, his grandparents, crash 3 cars, stab needles in his arm when he knows how much of it is destructive?
For awhile I was frustrated with the novel because it seemed to be repeating itself. It was the same story over and over. Do drugs, disappear, get dragged in to rehab, sobriety, and immediate relapse. I kept getting bored with the cycle but then of course I felt like an asshole, because that was the story. That was the truth that these families lived with everyday. After awhile you learned to appreciate seconds of hope and any ounce of truth, because an addict is unpredictable and destructive. I kept despising the family for giving in several times to help Nic. They continually gave him money, harbored him in their home while on drugs, and tore apart their lives to go to meetings. But it’s never that simple. You can’t just walk away from someone you love, a child, a lover, a parent. As much as you want them to succeed and achieve sobriety, they have to do it themselves and want to, but the process is like a hurricane pulling down everything it touches.
It was the note that Nic wrote to his brother and the realistically sad ending that I will leave you with and encourage you to read.
“I’m looking for a way to say I’m sorry more than with just the meaninglessness of those two words. I also know that this money can never replace all that I stole from you in terms of the fear and worry and craziness that I brought to your young life. The truth is, I don’t know how to say I’m sorry. I love you, but that has never changed. I care about you, but I always have. I’m proud of you, but none of that makes it any better. I guess what I can offer you is this: As you’re growing up, whenever you need me- to talk or just whatever- I’ll be able to be there for you now. That is something that I could never promise you before. I will be here for you. I will live, and build a life, and be someone that you can depend on. I hope that means more than this stupid note and these eight dollar bills.”
This book was written in 2008 and since then Nic has struggled relapsing a few times. But he manage to write a book which I intend to read. Their story never truly ends. It’s told all over the world in a million different voices.