Lust and Wonder (★★★★★)

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Augusten Burroughs  *  St. Martin’s Press  *  March 29, 2016  *  304 Pages

Author Augusten Burroughs is already well-known, specifically for his two most popular memoirs:  Running with Scissors and Dry. I’m kind of surprised at myself for not having read either, but it meant I was able to begin reading Lust and Wonder with a completely open mind. I really didn’t know what to expect.

Well, my goodness. I guess I’ve been missing out.

Lust and Wonder essentially follows Burroughs through three significant relationships in his life, and his descriptions of these relationships are brutally honest. No one is spared, including Burroughs. He truly does bare it all–the good and the bad–and even when he knows it’s ugly, he doesn’t flinch.

Burroughs makes fun of himself a lot for being anxious and uptight, but it’s clear he has a good sense of humor about his shortcomings. His commentary on his own fragile mental state adds soothing levity to the “torment,” so the memoir never feels suffocating or oppressive. There are some intense subjects covered, but I had no problem devouring huge chunks of the story over one or two sittings. I empathized with Burroughs, felt connected to his struggles, but the book never overwhelmed me. Balanced is probably the last word Burroughs would use to describe himself, but that is exactly the word I’d use to describe this book.

The last comment I want to add is pretty much superfluous, but I just can’t help myself.

It made me so sad when Burroughs repeated over and over how “safe” he felt in his first marriage. He kept saying that his partner (of ten years) was the opposite of every parent figure he had in childhood–so calm and predictable and restrained. But it seemed to me that their relationship was just a quieter version of what Burroughs had already experienced (at least from what I know about his childhood from this memoir). His partner was cold, withholding, and critical–constantly nit-picking and stonewalling and shutting him out, for seemingly no reason (or maybe, more accurately, for every reason).

A healthy person would know that love is supposed to feel good and would have the courage to tell the other person to either express himself like a grown-up or have the balls to leave the relationship already. But if you’ve grown up in a home where love didn’t feel steady, safe, secure, dependable, unconditional, etc., well then you think to love is to feel anxious. You feel anxious that you don’t deserve love, anxious that it will be taken away. And this state of anxiety feels awful, but also natural, familiar, almost good (!). So instead of sticking up for yourself, you fall right into the trap of trying to figure out how you upset the other person this time, how you can do better next time so that you can eventually earn their love. It breaks my heart a little to think that Burroughs put himself through that for 10 years. I’m beyond happy for him that he is now married to someone who gets him and treats him well, but still. We’re all screwed up, you know? No one deserves to be treated like he’s not worthy of love.

At any rate, I really loved this book. Start to finish, it was wonderful. From what I’ve read elsewhere, it appears that Lust and Wonder is a bit of a comeback memoir for Burroughs (and has been well-received by fans thus far). If that’s the case, I couldn’t be more thrilled for him. I wish him all the best, and I hope this book is a bestseller.

 

5 thoughts

  1. “Earn their love” is so on target. There’s no better definition of the difference between a good partner and a bad partner. A bad partner makes you feel like you need to “deserve” every drop of love you get. A good partner couldn’t care less about what you deserve; they only care about what makes you happy. You don’t need to earn anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your comment on his self-description as anxious and uptight reminds me of this amusing biographical nugget from Baba Ram Dass (on the days when he was a top-tier psychology professor, before moving on to LSD enthusiast and then Hindu mystic and New Age guru): “Until you know a good, Jewish middleclass, upwardly mobile, anxiety-ridden neurotic, you haven’t met a real achiever!”

    Liked by 1 person

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