Possible Side Effects
“Tart, smart and wicked fun,” said the Oprah magazine. “Brave, dark and
screamingly funny, this book is so engaging it’ll leave you craving for
more,” said Harper’s Bazaar. So went the quotes on the back cover of
“Possible Side Effects” (ISBN 978-1-84354-522-4, Atlantic Books 2007 and
written by Augusten Burroughs).
With thoughts of being similarly screamingly funnied, I picked this
paperback from the Bookazine shelves. Almost 300 pages of fun for the
weekend, should have been enough to satisfy my need to be amused. The book
also promised that it was written by a #1 international best selling author.
What more did I need?
The book features 25 short chapters with engaging titles such as “Killing
John Updike”, “Getting to No you”, “Try Our New Single Black Mother Menu”,
and others of like literary attraction.
The first couple of chapters were indeed amusing, where author Burroughs
describes his feelings when as a small child he lost his first tooth and
cowered in bed worrying about the arrival of some mystical being called the
Tooth Fairy. The following chapter dealt with nose bleeds, especially one
that occurred on a plane and the subsequent bloody discharge giving him the
appearance “I looked like somebody who had caught a small rodent in the
aisle and bitten its head off.” Wonderful verbal imagery and clever use of
the English language, and I looked forward to the next chapter, but I should
have paid more attention to the phrase in the next paragraph which ran,
“something in my genetic code acts as a sort of metal, magnetically
attracting disasters, both major and minor.” There was a clue there, as to
what was coming next.
From there, each chapter became another litany of problems that he could not
overcome personally and in many ways, excuses as regarding his personal
sexuality. To be perfectly honest, I do not care if the author of the book I
am reading is hetero or homo sexual. But I do care if the author’s sexuality
seems the reason that the book has been written.
Burroughs goes into much detail concerning his dysfunctional family, his
absent father and grandfather, his mother’s psychiatric episodes and his
grandmother’s over-protectiveness. As an adult, many of the chapters, which
are really episodes in the author’s life, bring in the relationship between
himself and his partner Dennis. I am happy that he has such a supportive
person in Dennis, as by his own admission, author Burroughs is unable to
look after himself.
He describes his time as an alcoholic, drinking a bottle a day, washed down
by fare from the archetypal American entrepreneurial dream under the golden
arches. And not just a description, but a good old fashioned self-pitying
wallow. “This is how I sleep. With angst hands. Chewed raw in the night by
my own mind.”
At B. 450, this book exhibits masterful use of the English language, but for
me, spoiled by the choice of subject. Augusten Burroughs would be able to
write wittily about anything, but appears to be absolutely caught up in his
own introspective life with his dogs and partner Dennis.