by Augusten Burroughs, reading at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Wednesday October 20, 7:30 pm
I magine being a graduate student at a decent creative writing program. There's one student there whose stories are everyone's favorite to workshop. The writer is as gay as they come, was a low-bottom alcoholic before sobering up, had an incredibly fucked up childhood, and writes these frequently hilarious, if not always fully developed stories about his life. He keeps the grad students in stitches with tales of his queeny childhood whimsy and bitchy adult neurosis, and as a result of his good cheer and mood-lightening nonfiction, nobody has the heart to raise their hand in class and say what needs to be said: "Look, some of these stories are funny as hell. I woke my wife up by laughing out loud at one of them the other night. But dude, it sounds exactly like David Sedaris. Not shades of Sedaris, but you are like a one-man literary tribute band to the guy." If you can picture this scenario well enough, you have a pretty good idea of what it's like to read Augusten Burrough's new collection of personal memoirs, Magical Thinking.
The stories in Magical Thinking can pretty easily be divided into two categories: "Boy, was I a homo little boy" and "Boy, am I a neurotic adult." If this sounds to you remarkably like the themes of David Sedaris' nonfiction, we are of similar minds. This collection of Burroughs' stories explore his childhood obsession with transsexuals, his teen mimicry of a Brooke Shields fashion pose, his deep longing to be a Tang commercial scene stealer, his worries that his ass is too flat for his boyfriend, and in the book's best story, his bitter passive/aggressive relationship with his control freak, price gouging, almost-a-midget cleaning lady. There are passages in this book hilarious enough that they practically demand to be read aloud to your friends. Unfortunately, about half of the pieces in the book read more like extended anecdotes and funny recollections than finished stories. So if you're one of those readers who just can't get enough Sedaris and would be happy with a readable but watered down knock-off, Magical Thinking may be just the book for you.