Nobody writes about incredible, unbelievable emotional agony like Augusten Burroughs. That’s because, instead of wallowing in his pain and suffering, Burroughs treats the terrible events in his past with such humor that you end up laughing at things that aren’t in themselves funny. Like alcoholism, for example. That’s the subject of Burroughs’ latest memoir, Dry. It’s a follow-up to his sad yet hilarious book Running With Scissors, about how Burroughs’ crazy mother sent him to live with her even crazier psychiatrist and his unhinged family.
That book left Burroughs just as he hit adulthood, parted ways with both of his dysfunctional families and struck out on his own. This story finds Burroughs as a young advertising whiz facing almost certain termination because of his alcoholism. Forced into an ultimatum by his colleagues, Burroughs, who is gay, gets into rehab at the Proud Institute, a substance abuse facility for gay people.
In addition to getting sober, he begins facing the realization that his HIV-positive best friend, Pighead, whom he almost constantly ignores in favor of long hours at the bars, is getting progressively sicker. It’s heavy, heart-wrenching stuff, but Burroughs has such a way with words that Dry almost never threatens to sink into melodrama. In fact, it’s one of the most compulsively quotable books in recent memory. For instance, only Burroughs would come up with a line like “Alcoholic friends are easier to make than Sea Monkeys” or would agree to attend a gay rehab center because “there’s the possibility of good music and sex.”
Or this choice passage, which pretty much speaks for itself:
“If you’re gay and live in New York and don’t go to the gym, eventually, they come for you. The Gym Rats from Chelsea come in their Raymond Dragon tank tops and haul your ass into the back of a Yukon. You wake up hogtied in a bathroom stall at a Red Lobster in Paramus. A sign around your neck reads DO NOT DRIVE ME INTO MANHATTAN UNTIL I HAVE PECS.”
It’s moments like that that make Burroughs’ books stand out from the throngs of memoirs that hit shelves on an almost hourly basis these days. He’s not just funny or just insightful – he’s both. His examination of his relationships with alcohol and the people he loves does seem to offer him some peace of mind, eventually. But if Burroughs’ last two books have taught us anything, it’s that any life experience, no matter how mind-bogglingly awful, isn’t without its moments of joy and humor.