three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

True Stories

A-MagicalThinkingIt’s the curse of a successful memoirist: the tragedies that provide the material are soon replaced by book tours and paychecks. Fearless and unique as ever, Burroughs tackles the everyday in his new book. A few stories hark back to his upbringing by a pedophilic psychiatrist, but most of the 27 tales spring from more recent experiences. Finding good domestic help, a stint at modeling school, and New York City rats all turn up in this collection that finds the author, for all his accomplishments, still attuned to the darker side of life.
St. Martin’s Press. 268 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0312315945

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Open the book anywhere, and chances are good you’ll be hooting, if not grinning, by the end of a chapter. … Magical Thinking is a book brimming with brio and outrageous fun. Some of it is reflective, but it is a very fast read." Brian Richard Boylan

Portland Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Burroughs’s peer group—which includes such charmingly caustic, ironic and dipped-in-sarcasm essayists as David Sedaris, Jonathan Ames and David Rakoff —will never possess Burroughs’s ability to endear while simultaneously causing one’s skin to crawl. … As creepy and unacceptable as many of Burroughs’s stories are, he’s so good with the turn of a phrase or nailing down an entire subculture with one sentence that readers will nod their heads in recognition." Joe Kurmaskie

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"To write this way is heroic. To do so repeatedly is miraculous. Burroughs deserves to be on the top shelf of any writer’s—or reader’s—bookshelf."
Cathie Beck

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Now comes the revenge of the quotidian …. His prose is as withering as before, but now applied to subjects that are often already miniatures." John Leland

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This downshift in intensity, combined with the scattershot nature of the stories, makes Magical Thinking feel like warmed-up leftovers. … Listen, he seems to be saying, I know I’m an egotistical, self-involved wreck, so let’s all enjoy the laugh on me." Cherie Parker

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Even this book’s format as a collection of short, anecdotal comic essays makes it more tame and prefabricated than what he has written before. Some of the stories work wickedly. But others just work overtime at being quirky."
Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

A small breath of ennui chills the generally good reviews for Burroughs’s latest memoir. His bestselling debut Running with Scissors and his follow-up, Dry, were met with excitement. But the strain of keeping the shtick alive is showing. Instead of the coherent narrative of his first books, Burroughs presents a collection of true stories that provokes shock, laughter, disgust, and pity in equal proportions. The cynical critics feel that he’s prey to the psychological disorder of his title, trying to make himself more interesting just by thinking about himself. But his supporters—fans, really—point to his distinctive voice and the courage of his unflinching honesty as the continuing marks of his brilliance.

Also by the Author

Running with Scissors (2002): 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002. Burroughs recounts his bizarre upbringing—when he was 12 years old, his mother allowed her psychiatrist to adopt him into his sprawling polygamous family.

Dry (2003): 3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003. Burroughs looks at his early 20s as a copywriter drinking himself into oblivion.