The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

January 8, 2010

Book review: Burroughs’ essays rough yet rewarding

‘You Better Not Cry’

By Augusten Burroughs

Halfway through “You Better Not Cry,” Augusten Burroughs’ latest collection of essays, I still wasn’t sure what to think of it. Or even if I’d finish it.

I’d been hoping for something along the lines of David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice,” which was consistently funny and twisted, often at the expense of others, but unfailingly affectionate.

At first, I didn’t find that in “You Better Not Cry.”

The book struck me as uneven, hilarious and disturbing, but cold — much like Burroughs’ own life, I guess. Anyone who has read his books is familiar with his dysfunctional background: an alcoholic father, a mentally ill mother, years of unhealthy relationships and drinking binges.

I didn’t crack a smile until the second piece, “Claus and Effect,” an ode to a child’s greed at Christmas. Even if the essay’s characterization is an exaggeration, Burroughs still must have been a monster. He presents his parents with a list of “acceptable” gifts, among them a gold-plated watch, a bag of coins, gold nuggets and a leather wallet.

“And as far as I was concerned, my parents would give me whatever I wanted,” he writes. “It was my payment for enduring the other 364 days of the year with them. Between my nasty drunk father and my suicidal, mental-patient mother, I felt I was owed certain reimbursements. They had aged me; I would drain them dry.”

Holy cow. Young Augusten makes today’s kids — with their desire for Wii’s, cell phones, and iPods — look like Marxists. Still, I had to laugh at his over-the-top requests. Seriously, what kind of a child asks for gold nuggets?

Less amusing was the essay about Burroughs’ one-night stand with a geriatric Frenchman in Santa regalia. The sleaze factor was just too much for me. It also seemed somewhat unbelievable, right down to its semi-redemptive ending.

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