Photo: Julian Behal
[Ed. note: Haven and Augusten have been inseparable friends for eight years, but that does not impede her judgment in any way.]
Years ago I got a letter from an elderly, Midwestern Christian woman who told me that she would never again read anything I wrote because I had written a very complimentary blurb for Running With Scissors. Now as I have pointed out, I don’t often lose my temper, and indeed, because I love the Olds, I was gentle but firm. I told her that her lack of compassion, coming from a Christian such as herself, was surprising, as Jesus himself was drawn to and loved the least of his brethren, and left us in charge of their care. I asked her to please imagine her own life if she had been abandoned in a mental institution by her mother, to be either ignored or raped by a pedophile at the age of 12/13, and to have never regularly attended school since the age of eleven. I asked her to imagine what fortitude, what magnificent intelligence was required for Augusten to then move to New York at seventeen and become one of the best ad-men in the city, earning six-figures by the time he was in his twenties. I asked her if she were truly the sort of Christian who would judge a young man for revealing his rape by the pedophile in very clear, direct language, because rape is not acceptable in her church. To her great and abiding benefit, she wrote me back immediately and said she was filled with shame at how she had rushed to judgment, and that she had felt Christ himself fill her heart with love and compassion for Augusten, and she was sorry. Wherever she is, I respect her very much.
Augusten Burroughs is the rarest soul I have ever met. I have said to him many times: he was reared by monkeys made of wires and covered in flannel, and the fact that he lived at all is a feat unto itself. That his mind is limitless, that he is the funniest person I have ever met, that he is so generous he moves me to tears – these only begin to cover the breadth and depth of his nature. He’s an autodidact, and can learn absolutely anything. He has a love of beauty and is tender-hearted, and you will never meet anyone with a more wicked wit (except my sister). And he can write like nobody’s business. We have, over the years, exchanged thousands of e-mails, and some have made me laugh so hard John thought he might have to call an ambulance. And he is ALWAYS on my side. He is on my side when I am WRONG, and as Twain said, that is the hallmark of a friend.
As well as I knew him, when I began reading excerpts from A Wolf At The Table, I was surprised and horrified all over again. I consider it a masterpiece of memoir, and one of the scariest and most gorgeous books I have ever read. I cannot ignore the beating he took from critics, to which I would like to say that many critics are like the legend (not true, as I understand) of lemmings. They have so few original thoughts that they simply pick up what someone else said and follow it off the cliff. In addition to that, they are often the same people who would gladly attend a beheading. I AM NOT SPEAKING OF MY OWN CRITICS HERE, WHO ARE ANGELIC AND TREAT ME AS IF I AM MADE OF BUTTERFLY WINGS AND GOLD DUST, THANK YOU DEAR SWEET PEOPLE. Let’s consider a very powerful critic, for instance, from a powerful publication, who was so incapable of reading the book, perhaps because she is senile, that to begin with she was unable to parse the cover. I kid you not. And in her review she first referred to his language as ‘Joycian’ and then as ‘flat.’ I read it and thought, “Lord have Mercy, she’s going to end up in my sister’s retirement village any day now, coming down every day to Melinda’s office saying no one will give her any stamps.”
I have mentioned Augusten’s generosity, and he sent six copies of the book to give my family members, who adore him as a writer and a person and as one of my great protectors in the world. My mother read it on a flight home from my house, and she said by the end she had to cover her face, because she gasping with tears. The book is that moving; it is that powerful; it that honest and well-written and brave and without mercy, as it ought to be, because it is the story of a child being tortured by a sociopath, and that’s not funny and that is not okay. I read it all in one sitting, and if it does nothing else, it points to its own opposite: what it means to be loved by one’s father, how blessed we are, how hard and relentlessly Augusten has had to push to survive the man’s torture. That he has emerged with such grace, such kindness, such wit, is a testament to his enormous fortitude. There was no other man I would have named my son after, and that is the most I can say. I highly, highly recommend this book, even knowing that the most tender among you will feel it the most deeply, because it good to feel things, it good to go deep and be wounded by someone else’s survival. I love him fiercely, I respect him like no other, and I can’t imagine a world without him in it.