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Book Review July 24, 2003
 
Rehab at Tiffany’s
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 
"Dry: A Memoir". By Augusten Burroughs, St. Martin’s Press 2003

"Dry: A Memoir". By Augusten Burroughs, St. Martin’s Press 2003

Hi. I'm Augusten (not "Augustine," please!) Burroughs, and I'm here to introduce my memoir, Dry.

When I set out to write the book, I had a problem: I'd already gotten one book out of my bad childhood, and since then I'd become a Manhattan guppie, and well... I had nothing to say.

But that didn't stop me. After all, I talked my way into a swank advertising job despite having flunked fifth grade, and the skills I use in copywriting turned out to be all I needed. Above all, you need to be able to spot trends and go with them. So I decided to use the present tense, with lots of "and"s, just like my rehab-novel colleague James Frey. Here's one of my more raw, searing sentences: "There is a gash and there is blood." I also describe clothes just like my chum Brett Easton Ellis. Sometimes my clothes: "I'm wearing a charcoal gray Armani suit and oxblood red Gucci loafers"; sometimes other people's: "She looks down at her shoes, polished Chanel flats with interlocked gold C's."

I also mention lots of streets and bars and mixed drinks and restaurants you'd know if you lived in Manhattan and were somebody. Sometimes I manage to mention food, lighting, flooring, my apartment, and a cool restaurant in a single paragraph: "I am able to pretty much ignore the eggs and focus on the Met's amazing use of recessed lighting, their beautiful hardwood floors. I feel inspired to make renovations to my apartment and am cataloguing ideas. At lunch we go to Arizona 206, a funky Southwestern place that elevates corn into cuisine."

As you can probably tell ("corn into cuisine" -- wasn't that a scream?), I have quite a sense of humor. I also have a fine ear for similes: "Her rage is like a force in the room that flattens me into complete silence." "...a force in the room..." -- that's the kind of writing that stays with people. I thought that up myself.

And of course, I have the most basic ingredient for a rehab memoir: a substance-abuse problem. Naturally my substance of choice is alcohol. There's something retro and legal about it. None of the opiates favored by that other, disreputable member of the family, that disgusting old William Burroughs with his slovenly addict friends. I suppose he's talented but... No thank you -- I'll have a liter or so of Dewar's.

Oh, and a little cocaine. Because after all, Jay -- that's Mister McInerny to the rest of you -- showed us how you can combine great literature with a little snort. Well, come to think of it they're both snorts. Snorts of a different color, ha-ha.

Lest the reader think I'm just a self-indulgent drunken ad copywriter, I drop some raw and searing flashbacks of my pubescent sexual-abuse stories here and there. And besides, they explain to me at rehab that it wasn't me downing all that Dewar's, it was the addict inside me, "...the alcoholic terrorist inside my head."

For the grand finale, I've got my little ace-in-the-hole: I'm gay and one of my ex-lovers is dying of AIDS. I'm saving his death scene for the end. It's going to be a classic moral-redemption thing, corny but cute: I relapse and he saves me from beyond the grave. Very Frank Capra.

So I check into rehab (fully paid by my ad agency), brave and wry even in my travails: "I have a reservation, as if I am simply going to Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica." Once there, I'm wry about the decor: "Ian Schrager would take one look and order the building doused with gasoline as he climbed back into his Aston-Martin Volante. This is the anti-Royalton." I'm wry, nay arch, about my fellow patients: "I'm surprised they don't move with their arms extended in front of them, like in Night of the Living Dead." I bestow upon them some very dry adjectives: "He smiles at her with a potty-training grin."


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