Augusten Burroughs, author of the intensely popular memoir “Running with Scissors” and several other works, is back with his signature mix of humor and solemnity in “Lust & Wonder.” His newest memoir (out today), is about how his various relationships with people changed after he got sober.
Burroughs has already written several memoirs about his difficult childhood and adulthood fails, so when he originally set out to write “Lust & Wonder,” he wanted it to be a novel. But he kept hitting a dead end. Ultimately he let inspiration take over and the book as it exists today, was born.
Figuring out what works
Just as he had to get out of his own way for his newest book to flow naturally, “Lust & Wonder” chronicles his attempts and failures to force relationships that weren’t quite right. The book documents the start of his sobriety, tracing two unsuccessful relationships in addition to the relationship with his literary agent and now-husband, Christopher Schelling. “I’d love it if the book got people thinking about what they actually want from a partner or if they’re happy in their relationship,” he tells us.
Burroughs’s relationship troubles showed him that sobriety alone wouldn’t provide the simple life that he’d envisioned. It was writing that initially led him to sobriety: “I just stopped drinking because there was no room for alcohol,” he tells us. “I had no mental or emotional space for it.”
Writing out the ugly truths
Throughout his years as a memoirist, Burroughs has learned the importance of honesty in writing, saying it’s “something that readers can later smell” and that it allows them to relate his life to their own. This honesty means not necessarily positioning himself — or others — in the best light.
“When something is uncomfortable to write about, or when I want to avoid writing about it, in my experience that tends to be a sign that I should keep going,” Burroughs says. “I don’t spit shine my life and myself on the page. I’m not really concerned with if my writing’s going to be flattering to me,” he says.
The price of telling the truth
But Burroughs has previously run into issues with what he maintains are his honest and fair representations of real life. In “Running with Scissors” he chronicles his negative experience living with his parents’ psychiatrist’s family, which he gives a fictional name, as an adolescent. According to a Vanity Fair article, the family sued Burroughs over their portrayal, and ultimately the suit was settled out of court.
“I try to write things as fairly and honestly as I can, but I’ve got to be truthful, and the truth isn’t always flattering and it’s not always pretty,” Burroughs says. “A memoir is my experience, so I think that other people, if they have a different perspective, they need to write a different memoir.”
It was while living with the psychiatrist’s family that Burroughs believes he developed his humorous and “childlike optimism,” which he hopes readers of “Lust & Wonder” will notice he still has, even at 50 years old.
The book is just out today, but Burroughs is already at work on his next books. He is currently writing three books, two novels and a memoir.
If you go:
New York City
March 29, 6 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Union Sq. (33 E. 17th St.)
April 14, 6 p.m.
279 Harvard St., 617-566-6660
$6.27 – $29.48