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Dry: A Memoir

Augusten Burroughs

Dry: A Memoir

Author:Augusten Burroughs
Publisher:St. Martin's Press

Posted 8/20/2003

Try writing a memoir about addiction that actually says something new. The problem will be obvious: So many writers have been to this well so often that only the most ingenious can draw up more than a bucket full of dusty clichés.

If anyone is up to the task, though, it would be Augusten Burroughs. In last year's Running With Scissors, Burroughs gave a mind-blowing account of his bizarre childhood, which he briefly recaps in his new book as "a life of squalor, pedophiles, no school and free pills." Running demonstrated that Burroughs has the two essential qualities of a good memoirist: He writes with grace and wit and he doesn't display an ounce of self-pity.

Dry finds the author grown up and living the high life in Manhattan. On the surface, things seem to be going surprisingly well. Despite a childhood of sexual abuse and a formal education that basically stopped in elementary school, the 24-year-old Burroughs has achieved a lucrative career in advertising.

But alcohol and drugs have wrapped their pallid fingers around his ankles. He limps along for a while, but soon those drugs and alcohol begin to take their toll on, among other people, his co-workers. As he explains: "To this day, Greer has never forgiven me for calling one of our clients at home at two in the morning and initiating phone sex. I was in a blackout at the time, so I am spared the actual memory."

The author does not wallow. With admirable speed and humor, Burroughs sketches out the events that brought his life as an addict to the crisis point. There is an all-night pub-crawl with a friendly coffin salesman, an ugly scene the next morning at an important business meeting, an intervention by colleagues, and a trip to rehab.

Recovery is the real focus here, and a good part of Dry's humor results from encounters between the cynical Burroughs and the extremely sincere people trying to save his life. But self-deprecation is the name of the game. Burroughs may laugh at Alcoholics Anonymous, but he's also laughing at himself laughing at it.

No doubt some readers will find this all a little glib. Like David Sedaris, Burroughs takes his cue from Jules Renard , who once advised, "Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it." But beneath the quips and the pop-culture references, Dry offers a surprisingly moving and remarkably fresh take on addiction and redemption.

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