After reading Running with Scissors, the first book in the story of Augusten Burrough's horribly traumatic formative years, I always assumed that his mom was the evil parent. She was the one who seemed selfish and disinterested. She was the one who sent Augusten to live with her kooky doctor and his even kookier family. I mean, the father was clearly neglectful and probably an alcoholic but it wasn't until reading this book that I realized how harmful he was. As Augusten puts it, his father was "missing something"-some part that made him human.
When I first began reading A Wolf at the Table, I almost felt sorry for the father. He was abused by his own parents and clearly had a lot of emotional problems. Plus, because of an incurable case of psoriasis, his skin peeled and bled to the point of it ruining his clothes. He had arthritis that left him in constant pain, and his married life was completely miserable. Certainly that doesn't give him (or anyone) the right to emotional abuse a child, but it puts his behaviour in perspective....to a point.
When Augusten was younger, his father was simply distant. But as he grew, his father began to play mind games that tormented his son and kept him in a constant state of frightened anticipation. For instance, when Mom has a breakdown and enters a hospital for what turns out to be weeks on end, Dad says, "Well, son, it's just the two of us now. I hope we'll be okay." Then smiled. Or there was the time a bit later when he stayed up all night long drinking and sharpening all the knives in the house. (I don't want to list all the atrocities committed by this man or give away too much, but just be warned: beloved pets die.)
The story flows really well and despite the dark subject matter, it's a very quick read. I read it in two days. I hated having to put it down. I truly believe that Augusten Burroughs is one of the best writers of my time. I suppose my only (ever so slight) problem with the book is that I don't know if I believe it all. The descriptions of his father portray him as some sort of monster, not a human being. And I'm still bothered somewhat by the fact that in the previous memoir it was never even mentioned that his father was this homicidal maniac. Is it true? Was it all just a case of repressed memories? To me, it doesn't matter. And I highly recommend you read the book and form your own opinions. It's worth the time.
Note: For those interested, here is a really great Q&A with Augusten Burroughs about this book.