How deliciously perverse is Augusten Burroughs? In Magical Thinking, he describes a boat ride with "fat Americans" in Key West. Waiting to board, Burroughs is kicked by a tyke with a Hello Kitty backpack. "Stop that," he says evenly. "Don't kick." The little girl levels another blow, giggles and steps on his toe. Burroughs whispers, 'Kick me one more time... and once we get on the boat, I'll push your mother into the ocean, and she'll die. And then I'll hurt your daddy. And then I'll be your new daddy, and I'll take you home with me.'"
Part of Burroughs's charm is his ability to see the melodramatic possibilities in every moment, and to make harsh judgments about himself as well as others. The product of a harrowing childhood (in his 2002 memoir Running with Scissors he describes being sent to live in an Addams Family household with his mom's shrink), he gives pathos a comic spin: Of a toothless fan who smelled "like a gangrenous foot" he writes, "He gummed the words out, 'I wuved wur book.'" Adds Burroughs: "But then, look at me I'm an alcoholic, a 'survivor' of childhood sexual abuse, was raised in a cult.... The only thing that separates me from the guy...is a book deal and some cologne." Of course this sort of thing isn't for everybody; darker than David Sedaris, Burroughs seems willing—even eager—to offend. But whether it's torturing his "evil troll" of a maid or having sex with a mortician, he extracts something funny from every shred of his own warped experience. Magical thinking indeed.