A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs St Martin's Press, HK$200 Augusten Burroughs had a fantastic childhood, not one to make the reader question the value and worth of his own, but fantastic in that many could only begin to imagine such a childhood. In his latest volume of memories, the author has decided to explore the first years of his life and, more importantly, to examine the relationship that existed between him and his father. In A Wolf at the Table, Burroughs' father is presented as a cruel and unkind man and an inattentive, frightening and looming presence in his son's life. He yells often. He drinks too much. There is more than one occasion where Burroughs and his mother, poet Margaret Robison, leave the family's home in Massachusetts. The book begins with two images. The first is a scene at night and Burroughs is being chased in a forest. It sounds like a nightmare, but before the reader is offered confirmation, the scene cuts and the reader is taken back to Burroughs as a toddler and his first memories of his mother's skirt. He was then 18 months old. From there the book moves through the first 12 years of Burroughs' fairly atypical life. As a child he craves normality; but when his anecdotes touch on the common childhood narrative it seems as though he presents his stories to highlight what he didn't have. Burroughs writes about a snowfall and the safe haven it provides. He remembers rules about eating potatoes and cakes before they have finished cooking. On his ninth birthday he receives a baseball mitt from his father. But having these memories isn't enough to speak to a childhood. There is a snowfall, but the underlying theme is that it is his older brother who shovels with his father and is therefore able to establish some sort of bond. His father is too busy to answer Burroughs' questions and address his curiosities. His father offers a baseball glove but does not include a baseball or the time to show him how to play. Every sense of normality is shadowed by sadness. Chronologically, the book can be seen as a prequel to his previous memoir, the painful, quirky Running with Scissors, and Burroughs does allude to his future with the Turcottes, the family of his mother's psychiatrist with whom he began living at 12. Running with Scissors was made infamous by a US$2 million suit brought by Burroughs' adopted family (and settled for an undisclosed sum), but A Wolf at the Table also stands alone and employs an entirely different tone. A Wolf at the Table reads easily and is written in a way that the reader can sometimes believe the book is a novel. This makes for an intriguing diversion: trying to determine the balance of truth and memory. Burroughs has previously written that he kept extensive journals and this helps explain his ability to recall people, events and emotions in detail. And though he insists that his memoirs are unembellished and undramatised, the process the reader undergoes in determining the accuracy of his recollections is what gives the book its lasting impression.