Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Wolf at the Table - Augusten Burroughs.

I have been obsessed with a band named Sea Wolf for a while now. I can't seem to stop listening to them, and one day while I was lurking through the internet, I came across an article that told me one of their songs was based on a novel (the song is called Song of the Magpie). I went and bought the novel immediately because of the strong love of the song that I had, and I finished reading it in two days.
**Tegan Quin of 'Tegan and Sara' has also written a song titled His Love in response to the novel.**

I didn't know what to expect when I began reading this novel because I had never before heard of the writer. It turns out that he writes mainly in memoirs, recanting the tales of his childhood and early adult life. He came from a difficult family, and it is through the trials and tribulations in these times that he was able to create this novel, as well as the others that he has written.

This novel focuses on the early life of Augusten, before the divorce of his parents at age twelve. We begin at roughly age six and carry on to directly after the divorce. The novel then jumps to Augusten as a young man, battling alcoholism. From very early, Augusten shows a strong desire to be loved. He is thrown into an unfortunate family in the sense that they will do almost anything to avoid strong affection. All that he wants as a child is to have his father love him, yet his father aims to do everything but. As the tale unravels and Augusten ages, his father collapses further into alcoholism and eventual homicidal behaviour, forcing Augusten and his mother to finally flee from the home. As his father is crumbling over time, his mother also becomes neurotic and peculiar, eventually requiring heavy medication, and eventual supervision for her erratic and suicidal behaviours. The 'wolf at the table' is immediately thought to be his father, but I think that it is a heavier title then that. I think that in many ways, his mother can be viewed as the wolf, his brother can be, the illnesses of both of his parents, and even himself. The wolf is everything that Augusten finds himself battling with in his early life, and it is specifically the things that he thinks he should be able to trust.

The novel is completely through the eyes of young Augusten, and I think that my favourite part of the novel is the changing point-of-view as he ages. At the beginning, the writing style mimics that of a child in the most realistic way. It seems as though a six year old's mind has been opened up to reveal exact thought processes. As he ages and becomes more aware of his peculiar lifestyle, the reader is also able to live through these realizations and the crippling loneliness that Augusten feels as a result.

I give this novel a 5/5. It is well written and incredibly heartfelt. At many times, I was able to feel exactly how he must have felt in the heaviest times of his life, and it is through the words on the page that he is able to connect people to something they most likely would not go through in a lifetime. I think that this novel is a fantastic commentary on family life, and the contrasting troubles and joys that can come out of people living under the same roof for their entire lives.

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