Possible Side Effects is another collection of short story memoirs by Augusten Burroughs. The material in this book is all new, and not found in any of his other books, which never fails to astonish me. How many crazy things can one person have happen in their life, after all? Apparently there is no limit.
The cover of this book is an attention getter. Bright yellow background, the same shade of yellow that stands for “danger” or, if found in nature, indicates that the contents might be poisonous if eaten. There is a large hand on the cover, which I didn’t see anything wrong with until I was nearly done reading the book.
The hand has six fingers, instead of the usual five. Some “possible side effect” has caused the owner of this hand to grow an extra middle finger. Of course, it’s that finger that was doubled. If you have read a lot of Burroughs’ work, you will find that quite fitting.
It took me so long to discover the extra finger either because I’m dyslexic (and somehow blurred the extra fingers into one finger) or possibly because my grandfather was born with six fingers on each hand. I never met my grandfather, but I wonder if some sort of “genetic memory” caused me to see the six fingered hand on the cover of Possible Side Effects as “normal”.
This book contains twenty six short memoirs. I found all of them fascinating in their own way. These stories do not follow chronological order (as they seemed to in Magical Thinking: True Stories) and instead, jump around in time.
Some are stories from his childhood, some are from after he and his partner got together, a few are from somewhere in between when he was still drinking. A few stories take place after he has become a recognized author. All stories are very different, and written with the honesty, sarcasm, and wit that only Burroughs can create.
I will mention just a few of the stories that I found so delightful and absurd that I had to share them with my husband. “The Sacred Cow” is about a puppy that Burroughs and his partner bought to be a companion to their first dog. Bentley, the first dog, was a perfect puppy, who had recently taken an interest in a toy cow. One day, Burroughs sees this sweet, tiny, puppy in the window of a pet store, who happens to resemble a cow. He has spots, and drooping ears. Chaos ensues, but it does have a happy ending. Any story that includes a cute animal is going to get my attention.
“GWF Seeks Same” is a story about when Burroughs “helps” his friend, a lesbian woman who hates the word lesbian, place a personal ad. They end up with the biggest ad I have ever heard of, and that’s just where things start. This might be the funniest story in the book.
“The Forecast for Sommer” is a story from when Burroughs was a child. His mother starts dating a woman named Sommer, and the story is about both Burroughs’ prediction for how long that relationship will last, as well as for Sommer herself. This one is a heartbreaker.
“Bloody Sunday” takes place in an airplane, where Burroughs has a nosebleed. Here we have some insight into what it’s like to be a “recognised” author, and having to deal with a messy bodily situation in public. Very interesting, I thought.