Augusten Burroughs Finds Redemption In ‘Lust And Wonder’
Augusten Burroughs’ latest book, Lust & Wonder, almost didn’t happen.
By 2011 he’d published a long string of memoirs covering various parts of his own life, from an adolescence spent living with his mother’s psychiatrist in Running with Scissors to A Wolf at the Table, which chronicled his turbulent relationship with his father. There were other books in between, giving Burroughs a grand total of six memoirs to his credit. With the release of each it seemed that critics declared the writer had best be careful: He was going to run out of material.
Burroughs doesn’t let on that he listened to these criticisms, but after his last work of nonfiction, 2012’s This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike, he decided to write a novel. He even completed it. But something about it didn’t sit right with him.
“I had issues with it,” he says. “It wasn’t quite the book I wanted it to be or imagined it to be, so I wrote another one. And that one also left me flat. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
He considered the commitment he made to himself about writing fiction and then decided to abandon it. Before long the book that would become Lust & Wonder began revealing itself.
“It just began to flow,” he adds. “I guess that’s what happens when you’re a memoirist. I’ve been a memoirist since I was a little kid, long before I was an author. It’s just the way I process my life. And it just so happened that a lot of stuff had transpired since my last memoir.”
Some of what had transpired was that Burroughs began drinking again and he also found himself navigating a romantic life perhaps more treacherous than he could have anticipated. This is ultimately a story about wanting to love and wanting to be loved, and those factors, Burroughs says, were complicated by his early life.
“Love was not something that was given out freely. There was always a price and it was taken away very quickly," he says. "So in my adult life I would seek out situations that were impossible, so that I could replicate what I knew.”
One of the critical relationships in the book is one that lasts a decade. It was in that time that Burroughs says he had the greatest desire to “fix” himself.
“I was with someone who didn’t like me even at the end of the day,” he points out. "He put up with me. He tolerated me. I was fighting against who I was and what I was and what I really wanted. I had flaws and I was trying to squish them back in and pretend them away. And in all that time I felt like I was in love with someone else who I couldn’t possibly be in love with.”
What Burroughs came to realize was that he needed to find a partner who would take him, in his words, “as is.”
“Love is a word that we use so much that I can easily lose track of what it even means,” he says. “It came down to accepting myself as I really am. Wanting to want something is not the same thing as actually wanting it. For me, it meant not lying to myself anymore and sort of shattering my own illusions of what normal meant.”
He adds that although he knows he has a lot of damage, he also holds great qualities, too.
“I have a lot of strength and a lot of depth. I have a lot integrity," he says. "And all of that goes hand in hand with the phobias and compulsions and neuroses. I just came to a place where I realized that it was fine to be sort of a mess.”
He also says that one of the greatest discoveries he made was that not drinking was but a part of the larger picture.
“I could trace all these disasters in my life to alcohol and I thought that if I stopped drinking all these piece would fall neatly into place,” he says. “But I had to learn to live with my own feelings. I think for a lot of addicts and alcoholics, learning to live with feelings is a big enough adventure for one lifetime.”
Lust and Wonder finds Burroughs happier in the end but still, as he mentions, imperfect. But, he says, his tendency to behave compulsively has a positive byproduct. He tends to channel that energy into writing and the writing results in books that can entertain and provide uplift to others.
“That can be a redemptive experience,” he says.
Augusten Burroughs appears at Abode Venue, Monday, April 4, at 6:00 p.m. for a reading and book signing.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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