Lust and Wonder: A Memoir
by Augusten Burroughs
St. Martin’s Press
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e all are looking for someone to love and to love us unconditionally. In Augusten Burroughs’ latest memoir, he describes his long search and makes us laugh and cringe in equal measure (“No matter how awful something is you can always sell tickets”). His painful childhood, as detailed in his wonderful Running with Scissors, and ongoing battles with addictions and obsessions inform his sometimes twisted, often hysterical, worldview completely. He pulls no punches and is as brutally honest about his own flaws as he is about those of the people around him. Picking up where his book Dry left off, he turns his critical eye to his love life. Not only love but sex, one of the most challenging parts of any relationship.
Because what’s love without its physical expression? He struggles with how much is enough, what makes it wonderful, what to do when it’s just bad. And, a very big question for any gay man of this era, what if sex is killing the man you love? Now, therein lies the rub. Before I read this piece I had heard that it chronicled further his relationship with “pig,” his best friend and lover in Dry who is dying of AIDS. He says of this man, called George in this piece: “I just felt like if I could make him fade away instead of just vanishing right in the middle of love, that would be easier, you know.” But George just won’t fade from Burroughs’ neurotic psyche. He realizes, too late, how much he loves him. And it doesn’t end there, his other great love has it too; he just can’t get away from it. Sometimes Burroughs’ thoughts about AIDS are borderline offensive if not taken in context (“I was never going to be with someone who was a simmering pot of AIDS again”). But remember, the disease had already taken a great love of his life. In the end, however, he gives in to the inevitable and realizes, in his strange way, that it’s not necessarily a death sentence anymore. That’s a lesson that many negative men still need to learn!
More than one relationship is chronicled here. Not all of his partners are positive, but, in some ironic twist of fate, he learns it’s better to share a healthy, real love and passion with someone who might or might not get sick than to live in dysfunction with someone who just doesn’t make you happy. This book is truly a love story for the modern age.
John Francis Leonard writes A&U’s monthly Bright Lights, Small City column. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.