There was a time when the art of memoir-writing was generally relegated to the rich, famous and powerful. Not so nowadays, when complete unknowns if their tales of dysfunction or triumph over challenges are resonant enough get published fairly readily. Augusten Burroughs fits the new mold, having gained recognition with 2002's Running With Scissors, the true-life account of his strange upbringing and nightmarish youthful experiences that was a national bestseller. Burroughs' follow-up memoir, Dry, charts his recent struggle with substance abuse. The topic here is not a new one, but the author's flippant, knowing style makes this book a cut above other entries in the genre.
Dry finds the author in his mid-20s and carving out a high-paying career in New York advertising. After mounting episodes of personal irresponsibility force his colleagues to hold an in-office intervention, he is whisked away to the Proud Institute in Duluth, Minnesota, where he undergoes a recovery regimen tailored to the needs of homosexuals. Burroughs completes the program and returns to the Big Apple, sober but cautious. He reclaims his job and attends AA meetings with the appropriate enthusiasm. Alas, he also meets a fellow recovering addict named Foster, who entices him back into addictive behavior. When a dear old friend finally succumbs to AIDS, Burroughs falls completely off the wagon. But once again, he dedicates himself to getting straight, armed with hard-won knowledge. "The good news is you do learn to live without it," he writes. "You miss it. You want it. You hang out with a bunch of other crazy people who feel the same way and you live with it. And eventually, you start to sound like a cloying self-help book, like me." In truth, Dry is anything but cloying. It's a smart, revealing book that should please those readers who enjoyed Burroughs' previous memoir. Martin Brady is a freelance writer in Nashville.