Bookmarks Issue: 

A-PossibleSideEffectsHis fourth collection of literary self-excavation finds Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) on familiar ground. In 26 tales he bundles together his improbably odd childhood, career in advertising, battles with alcoholism, and pets’ fates with his narcissistic self-loathing and wicked humor. Whether Burroughs is looking forward to the effect John Updike’s death will have on the value of his first editions or despairing over the difficulties of dating, for those who like their memoirs with a wicked bite, here is even more.
St. Martin’s Press. 304 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0312315961

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Loneliness saturates the book like the smell of mints Burroughs buys with his booze, intending to mask his habit. His coworkers aren’t fooled, and neither is the reader." Annie Dawid

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Most readers won’t mind the unevenness; these are essays to be consumed like Jelly Bellies, and variety trumps nuance of individual flavor. But should Burroughs in the future find the gross-out game getting old, he might be well advised to push further with that pathos. I have a hunch Burroughs possesses far more character than he cops to." Rachel Howard

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Somewhere along the way to his fourth autobiographical volume, Augusten Burroughs changed from a guy with a story to tell into a guy with a knack for telling stories." Janet Maslin

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"Burroughs’ latest work, while still filled with comedic timing and delightful, underbelly-of-life insights, reads as a tired mimicry of his previous works." Cathie Beck

USA Today 1.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s time for Burroughs to put in the effort and become what people have long accused him of being—a great fiction writer." David Daley

Los Angeles Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Possible Side Effects reads only like the diary of a disturbed teenager. It’s neither engaging nor provocative, but a book you’ll feel embarrassed to have picked up, and one you’ll want to put away and never see again." Carmela Ciuraru

Critical Summary

Augusten Burroughs offers a post–James Frey "dishonesty disclaimer" (New York Times) at the beginning of Possible Side Effects, a provocation that has reviewers scouring the essay collection for signs of the improbable. Sure enough, there’s plenty of material that fits the bill, but critics don’t seem to mind the tall tales as long as they’re in on the joke. The loudest complaints are that the new book mostly retreads the best-selling Running with Scissors ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002) and Dry and that the quality of these "new" tales varies tremendously. Burroughs’s knack as a humorist dampens some of the dissatisfaction, but it might be prudent for him to change his shtick for his next book.