Wednesday 20 February 2008

77. Magical Thinking

Augusten Burroughs' Magical Thinking is a collection of purportedly "true stories," which address a variety of topics ranging from sexual encounters with priests to killing mice to mildly autistic brothers.

Let me tell you, the quality of the stories in this book is as varied and uneven as the subject matter. The book started off slowly, but then made me laugh raucously throughout both "Model Behavior" and "I Dated an Undertaker" - I thought I was onto a real winner after all.

But then Burroughs made me think I was experiencing a horrible case of deja vu when I was reading "The Rat/Thing," for in the writing of it, he erroneously imagined that torturing (in a prolonged fashion) and then finally killing a mouse a la Timoleon Vieta Come Home was supposed to be funny. The only people who think that's funny, Burroughs, are serial killers in training (which you, correctly, worried you might be for the way you killed the poor mouse!).

After "The Rat/Thing," the stories went back to middling and inoffensive (except for the story about how many beejays he's gotten from priests which is, frankly, neither sexy nor funny nor truly disturbing (to me), but is really very weird).

There was one final shining light in the otherwise somewhat drab second half of the book: the titular story, "Magical Thinking." Magical thinking is, as a note in the book so handily points out, "a schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had nothing to do with him or her and thus assuming that one has a greater influence over events than is actually the case."

Burroughs' own magical thinking is described, hilariously, as manifesting thus: "Perhaps my supernatural abilities come from my solid spiritual beliefs. I believe in the baby Jesus. And I believe he is handsome and lives in the sky with his pet cow. I believe that it is essential the cow like you. And if you pet the cow with your mind, it will lick your hand and give you cash" (p. 239).

If only there were more pleasingly silly moments like this in Magical Thinking, it would be truly a classic of comic writing. Maybe next time.

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