Possible Side Effects: True Stories

Augusten Burroughs, Author . St. Martin's $23.95 (291p) ISBN 978-0-312-31596-2

These often hilarious, sometimes contrived essays put the "me" in "confessional memoir" front and center. Burroughs recounts scenes from the floridly dysfunctional childhood chronicled in his bestselling Running with Scissors , along with vignettes from various bad jobs, including his travails at an ad agency, and his life as a famous writer. His theme is himself: his struggles with alcoholism, a voracious Nicorette habit, compulsive Web surfing, slovenliness, social isolation, unfitness for employment, gross bodily emissions and general embarrassment at being alive. The thin story lines—a visit from the tooth fairy, a trip to the doctor, house-training a puppy—suggest that Burroughs's well-mined vein of life experience may be played out. He fattens up the material—a (Frey-inspired?) disclaimer warns some events have been "expanded and changed"—in ways that sometimes ring false, especially in his childhood reminiscences, which are improbably detailed and infused with an adult sense of camp. Often, though, the only thing animating the writing is the author's perverse imagination. Fortunately, Burroughs has superb comic sensibility, throwing off sparkling riffs on everyday humiliations in a voice that's alternately caustic and warm, bitchy and self-deprecating. His self-involvement can get claustrophobic, but when he steps outside his head no one is funnier or more perceptive. (On sale May 2)

Reviewed on: 02/20/2006
Release date: 05/01/2006
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