Many people assume I have a 'funny and charming self.' Many people are wrong. I am not especially funny. I am serious and exhausted. ... I try to be funny but come off instead as sloppy and a little pathetic."
This is Augusten Burroughs, well into middle age, speaking -- the same Augusten Burroughs you saw through adolescence in Running with Scissors, through rehab in Dry, and through post-rehab in Magical Thinking. The quote is from Possible Side Effects, Burroughs' latest collection of first-person-singular essays, and it's true: The guy is sounding serious and pretty exhausted -- what with this, his fourth book to land on The New York Times' bestseller list and this, his fourth book to delve into some well-mined autobiographical territory. As in:
Burroughs' memories of his dear, demented mother, an artistically challenged manic-depressive -- she's here, again. As is Burroughs' father, still shadowy and uncommunicative, and his brother, still supersmart but a weirdo in his own right.
Now add in further familiar memories to go with the good/bad old days before Burroughs hit the big-time: Burroughs the adman, Burroughs the blind-dater, Burroughs the chain-smoker, Burroughs the drinker, and Burroughs the slob.
But there are new memories too in Possible Side Effects, in case you need reminding of the good/bad old days. As in:
Burroughs, age 9, cooking up a storm (and a major mess) unlike his idol, Julia Child; Burroughs, age 11, in platform shoes just like his idol, Tony Orlando; Burroughs, age 17, befriending a pot-head named Druggy Debby; Burroughs, age 18, making mincemeat of sailcloth; and Burroughs, age 9 again, washing his hands raw and spraying them with Windex just so he can revisit yet another other idol, a dermatologist (and burn victim) named Dr. Ledford.
The book is not without its updates though: Burroughs cracking a tooth on a tater tot; Burroughs chewing an average 1,300 pieces of Nicorette gum per month; Burroughs helping his friend, a GWF, seek "same"; and Burroughs (heartsick?) on a treadmill.
Treading tested ground in Possible Side Effects? Yes, but Burroughs is still a likable guy -- on the page, in doses: caustic, self-critical, but a real softie at heart and again on the trail of the preposterous. But unlike James Frey, his partner in pieces, Burroughs covers his bases in an author's note before Possible Side Effects gets under way and beyond belief:
"Some of the events described happened as related; others were expanded and changed. Some of the individuals portrayed are composites of more than one person, and many names and identifying characteristics have changed as well." As in:
Dennis Pilsits? He's Burroughs' partner, and he "makes it all possible and meaningful." And maybe he does.