Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Dysfunctional Christmas

Here is my answer to holiday cheer. Although I do admit to loving Hallmark movies this time of year, I find myself also looking for the untraditional Christmas stories too. Those are sometimes more relatable than the boy-finds-girl plot seen in most holiday tales. And so I give you Augusten Burroughs' book.
You may know Augusten Burroughs as the author of Running with Scissors, which was made into a movie a few years back, starring Annette Benning and Gwyneth Paltrow. He is known for his memoirs about his youth, and has published several books. Burroughs had a notoriously bad childhood, and was an odd child by anyone’s standards, but at least he can laugh about it now, and we can enjoy hearing about it all. 
In You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas, Burroughs recounts several incidents from his childhood that took place around the holidays. As in his other memoirs, his accounts of his family are vivid, disturbing, and comical. His mother is an alcoholic, his father hides from the family, and his brother is always creating something semi-illegal in his room. (As a side note here, his brother is also an author: John Elder Robison)  

The first story in this memoir revolves around a number of things: his grandparents’ visit, a life-size Santa, and Augusten’s confusion over Santa and Jesus. That’s right: Augusten, as a child, did not know the difference between the two Christmas figures, and thus thought them interchangeable. Because of this, he thought the life-size Santa his grandparents brought over was, in fact, Jesus. Thus ensues an entertaining tale about a memorable day in his childhood that ended with his stomach being pumped. I’ll leave you to find out why.  

The second story in the book explores Augusten’s creative side as a child. He gets it into his head to recreate a gingerbread house he saw in a magazine. Of course he does this while his parents are asleep, and of course he botches the recipe in predictable childlike ways. The end result of the house is not that important, but the journey to get to that point. As with most stories, the beauty is in the way Augusten tells his tales. He is open, funny, and frequently addresses the reader directly, making the reader feel complicit in his "crimes."  

The rest of the book covers similar stories filled with holiday mishaps, following a roughly chronological order. The book has some moments of redemption for him and his family, but overall, You Better Not Cry focuses a great deal on the worst brought out during the holiday season. Despite some of the vaguely disturbing tales, Burroughs tells each story with the wit and creativity he is known for, making this a fun and quick read for the holiday season, even if it is slightly unconventional. 

If you enjoy Augusten Burroughs’ work, you may also enjoy the memoirs of David Sedaris and Justin Halpern, who write about their childhoods with a similar sardonic wit.
~Cailey W.

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