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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

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.