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A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father


A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father Cover



Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What do you make of the brief but chilling scene that opens A Wolf at the Table? How does it affect your expectations for the story that follows? If youve read Burroughs other books, did the first pages of his new memoir shock or intrigue you? Why? How is this book a departure from his previous ones?

2. Why do you think Burroughs tells much of the memoir from the perspective of a little boy? What are the advantages and disadvantages to this approach?

3. Could the "Wolf" of the books title be read as a metaphor that extends beyond the father? For example, can memories become more real and terrifying than the incidents or people that inspire them?

4. Compare and contrast Burroughs portrait of his father with his portrayal of his mother in Running with Scissors.

5. In chapter two, how is Augustens destruction of the violin a manifestation of his rage at his father? Where else in the book is Augustens anger with his parents displaced onto something or someone else? Might Augustens hypochondria (page 170) or his later problem with drinking (chapter eighteen) be examples of this? Why?

6. Consider Burroughs website,, where he writes about and posts videos of his dogs Bentley and Cow. Does A Wolf at the Table predict or explain his intense relationships with animals?

7. On page 31, Burroughs writes that he "felt very close to his father examining his things" because "in a way, he was his things." How can people become their "things"? What objects do you associate with those who were or are important to you in your own life?

8. How do you interpret the mothers story in chapter seven about her marriage to Augustens father? What does her story reveal about her as well as her marriage? Does her story shed any light on the fathers behavior?If youve read Running with Scissors, does his portrayal of the mother in that book complement or conflict with your understanding of the parents marriage and Burroughs childhood in this book?

9. On page 107, Burroughs writes: "I realized that my father was two men - one he presented to the outsideworld, and one, far darker, that was always there, behind the face everybody else saw." Do you think Augustens father is a sociopath? Do you think his father is capable of murder? Why?

10. Do Augustens feelings about his father truly evolve and change by the close of the book?

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megan s, June 14, 2009 (view all comments by megan s)
Honestly, my initial reaction to A Wolf at the Table is too depressing to be enjoyed. Why would any happiness seeking human being ever want to read something so utterly dispiriting?

On second look, though, it occurred to me that, whenever I could seperate myself from the unfortunate happenings inherent in this book, Augusten Burroughs is really a great writer. Despite its more depressing properties, I never once thought that I wanted to lay this book down and not finish it. From the very start, this book has a touch of brilliance. Burroughs brings to life his early childhood memories in a perfectly clear and surreal manner in which those memories tend to linger. They're filled with smells, textures, in almost photographic glimpses in which memories from such a young age seem to manifest themselves. Burroughs puts into words the essence of his childish enthusiasm for loving his father and the crushing and shameful disappointment he felt when he realized his advances never seemed to penetrate his father's, at best, indifference toward him. He pinpoints the exact moments when he began to understand, and in some measure accept, the most difficult truths about his father. He captures that tension between desperately wanting to be loved and fiercely hating the same person he can't help hoping will love him unconditionally. He insightfully contemplates what a father should be and whether he did or did not turn out to posess the worst qualities of his own father.

Now that I think about it, it may be because Burroughs' writing is so skillful that this book is so hard to read. We see and feel exactly what Burroughs intends for us to see and feel through his narrative. We come to know the youngster Burroughs was, to understand his deepest desires and to be just as disappointed, angry, and fearful as he once was. A Wolf at the Table is a painful, difficult read, but it is also a sort of cathartic masterwork of a very talented writer.
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Product Details

A Memoir of My Father
Burroughs, Augusten
Performed by:
Smith, Patti
Performed by:
Wolf, Sea
Smith, Patti
Wolf, Sea
Wolf, Sea
Smith, Patti
Quin, Tegan
Michaelson, Ingrid
Personal Memoirs
Novelists, American
20th century
Novelists, American -- 20th century.
Burroughs, Augusten - Family
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
8.26 x 5.72 x 0.755 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Literary
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father Used Trade Paper
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Product details 272 pages Picador USA - English 9780312428273 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,

The Instant National Bestseller from the Author of Running with Scissors

With A Wolf at the Table, the prequel to his bestseller Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs re-creates the unspeakably terrifying relationship between a sociopathic father and a son yearning for unconditional love. Emotionally unflinching and brave, A Wolf at the Table is a truly devastating look at the distance that can separate fathers and sons.


"Synopsis" by ,

Nominated for the 2009 Audiobook of the Year

“As a little boy, I had a dream that my father had taken me to the woods where there was a dead body. He buried it and told me I must never tell. It was the only thing wed ever done together as father and son, and I promised not to tell. But unlike most dreams, the memory of this one never left me. And sometimes…I wasnt altogether sure about one thing: was it just a dream?”

When Augusten Burroughs was small, his father was a shadowy presence in his life: a form on the stairs, a cough from the basement, a silent figure smoking a cigarette in the dark. As Augusten grew older, something sinister within his father began to unfurl.  Something dark and secretive that could not be named. 

Betrayal after shocking betrayal ensued, and Augustens childhood was over. The kind of father he wanted didnt exist for him. This father was distant, aloof, uninterested…

And then the “games” began.

With A Wolf at the Table, Augusten Burroughs makes a quantum leap into untapped emotional terrain: the radical pendulum swing between love and hate, the unspeakably terrifying relationship between father and son. Told with scorching honesty and penetrating insight, it is a story for anyone who has ever longed for unconditional love from a parent. Though harrowing and brutal, A Wolf at the Table will ultimately leave you buoyed with the profound joy of simply being alive. Its a memoir of stunning psychological cruelty and the redemptive power of hope.


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