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Relishing the Southern Gothic qualities of his family, Robert Goolrick often told the story of his father's funeral at dinner parties.

But in telling his psychiatrist and beginning to bawl, he realized that his father's life and death were more tragedy than comedy. So Goolrick went home and began to write, and thus began his memoir, "The End of the World As We Know It: Scenes From a Life" (Algonquin Books, $22.95).

Raised in the 1950s' days of "cocktails and hairdos," Goolrick navigated a childhood saturated in alcohol, etiquette and the damning weight of a family secret that infected every day of his life.

"The impetus for me to write were the scandals in the Catholic Church," Goolrick says. "In all of the news and reporting, I never heard the voice of one of the boys or the victims, never one honest piece of writing about what it was like. There are all of these men out there whose lives have been irrevocably altered by what happened to them as a child."

Unfolding in an nonlinear fashion, much like memory itself, Goolrick says that in some ways his book is harder to live with now that it's written. "It didn't feel cathartic or particularly revelatory, but it's like cleaning house. You kind of start to get rid of a lot of baggage. You feel lighter around the shoulders."

Already receiving widespread national acclaim prior to publication, "The End of the World," a masterful blend of comedy and tragedy, is disturbing, perhaps in direct proportion to how beautifully it is written.

Goolrick will be at the Fountain Bookstore for a reading and signing Monday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m. 788-1594. On the same evening at 7, Joyce Carol Oates gives a free reading at the University of Richmond's Jepson Alumni Center. 289-8310. S

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