Killing John Updike

First of all, it saddens me that John Updike is dead.

Second, this piece was written by Augusten Burroughs before the writer died in 2009 so I’ll forgive the offensive title and just focus on what’s good about the writing.

Have I mentioned that good creative nonfiction writing is honest? I believe you’ll notice that’s a popular theme with me. Well, here is no exception.

And what do you know? He’s often compared to David Sedaris. An article written for The Washington Post about his most famous novel “Running With Scissors” makes mention of the fact. What they have to say makes perfect sense.

“Burroughs’s material makes that writer’s tics and wacky affectations seem quaint and normal. Sedaris is a finer prose stylist and funnyman, but young Augusten has much more material to work with.”

It’s true. Sedaris is much more refined. He’s more sophisticated and intelligent with his sentence construction and narrative. But I like Augusten Burroughs for the sheer fact that he can make a story from anything and everything.

In, “Killing John Updike,” he and his friend come up with the idea to begin purchasing first editions of books by authors who will soon be dead. They figure that they’ll be able to sell the books once the author has died and become rich at the expense of a dead John Updike. So they brainstorm ways for him to die, mentally concentrate on killing him, and act all kinds of crazy and sadistic in the hope of making a profit.

Eventually, Burroughs weaves this anecdote into his own book, “Running With Scissors,” wonders if other people are doing the same for him, and by the story’s end, feels like a horrible human being.

The reason I like Burroughs is the same reason he can be frustrating. His essays are so simplistic it seems like there is hardly ever a point. I like to call them breezy.  They’re light reads with amusing subjects and unsophisticated language use. Call him the antithesis to Cynthia Ozick or Virginia Woolf. Burroughs is the everyday man who knows how to tell a story from the smallest occurrences.

It’s why I can’t help but commend him. To be a good creative nonfiction writer, you have to be hyper aware of the world around you. Every event should be scrutinized. Remembered. Taken in and encapsulated.

With life comes stories, and Augusten Burroughs tells great stories. Even if his writing style isn’t impressive enough to score him in the league of Sedaris and other contemporary essayists, that’s okay with me. Not all creative nonfiction has to be masterful.

APA Citation:

Burroughs, A. (Ed.). (2006). Killing john updike. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Stuever, H. (2002). Growing up truly absurd. The Washington Post, Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A19023-2002Jul29

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