Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book Review: "Lust & Wonder" by Augusten Burroughs

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for making it available!

The more-than-slightly zany, self-deprecating memoirist from Running with Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking, etc. is back, this time recounting his challenges with love, sex, and relationships, and how the heart and the mind don't always work in tandem—especially when your mind is almost always working overtime.

Finding and keeping love can be difficult for anyone, but for Burroughs, who struggled with issues of self-worth and anxiety, and is a recovering alcoholic, relationships were a major hurdle. In Lust & Wonder, he touches on three major relationships in his life, the high and low points, and the challenges he experienced, both sexual and emotional.

The book deals with his relationships with Mitch, an author with his own self-confidence issues; Dennis, whose personality and expectations are quite different from Augusten's, but Augusten was more than determined to make it work; and Christopher, his longtime editor, who (somewhat of a spoiler alert if you don't know much about Burroughs' life) eventually becomes his husband. Burroughs reflects on the sacrifices you make to keep a relationship flourishing, and when you realize it's not working, and how the fear of being alone and disentangling everything often keeps people in relationships long after they've died romantically and emotionally. It also addresses the question of how important sex and sexual chemistry is to a relationship, and whether relationships can survive when at least one person has their own emotional and sometimes physiological demons to deal with.

Burroughs is more than willing to shoulder his portion of the blame when things didn't work out. When you've dealt with the kind of childhood he did, struggled to maintain sobriety, and lost people close to you, it's no wonder you have difficulties committing yourself fully, or doubting what your partner tells you when he tells you he is happy.

"So many years of anticipating disaster is exhausting. Thought I have tried to train myself not to think this way, it never works, so plan B is to go ahead and think this way but then remind myself I'm wrong. Which means I can only cobble together a life by clobbering my faulty 'gut instincts' 100 percent of the time."

When I first read Running with Scissors I was so surprised, I remember laughing out loud on an airplane while reading it. Lust & Wonder does have its funny moments, but it's definitely a more contemplative, emotional read rather than the utterly zany ride that book was. Burroughs is a very talented storyteller, and I can only imagine what he'd be like in person. I did feel that this book meandered a bit too much at times, and while Burroughs' other emotional issues and coping strategies certainly had an impact on his relationships, I felt the book spent more time than it needed to dwelling on those, and it distracted from the heart of the book.

While comparing this book to some of Burroughs' earlier ones definitely demonstrates he has mellowed a bit as he has aged, there's still plenty of craziness in store. If you're a fan of his, or if you've ever struggled with love, lust, and relationships, this may hit a chord or two with you.

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