This is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead-ringer for Santa and a lunatic in the bargain. Suddenly, at age twelve, the author found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian in perfect squalor. The doctor's bizarre family, a few patients, and a pedophile living in the backyard shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules, there was no school. The Christmas tree stayed up until summer, and Valium was eaten like Pez. And when things got dull, there was always the vintage electroshock therapy machine under the stairs. It is at turns foul and harrowing, compelling and maniacally funny, but above all, it chronicles an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.
It's a mess all around.
To sum up the story when Augusten was twelve his mother gave him away to her psychiatrist and this is his story of the bizarre years he spent in the doctor's dilapidated and filthy mansion getting to know his crazy family and inpatients especially one a paedophile who lives in the garden shed.
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
This sums up Augustens life beautifully about the years he writes about in this memoir.
Fans of the dysfunctional family memoir, however, will get their fill on Augusten's memories of the past. Born to a distant father and a mother who was more interested in fulfilling her dreams of being the next Anne Sexton than being a mom, the family gives the unorthodox methods of Dr. Finch a try in order to solve their problems. It's a decision that forever affects their lives: Augusten's parents divorce, and he is handed over to be raised by the Finch family, who live in ambivalent squalor, eating dog food and plucking candy canes from the dried-out Christmas tree in May, among many other oddities. Since the Finches believe that 13 is the age of adulthood, the kids were allowed to do as they please, with whomever they please. Augusten falls into a predatory relationship with one of the doctor's other adopted patients, despite there being nearly a thirty-year age difference between them. Augusten is often conflicting about how his behavior was recieved by the Finches. He notes their lax attitudes towards discipline, but notes that he was more open to hang with his older boyfriend and smoke around his mother.
While the Finches are oftentimes dirty and eccentric, Augusten misses many chances to humanize them. Hope comes close with her empathy, but even the Finch he was closest to, Natalie, gets treated like a filthy, foul-mouthed hobo. Augusten's purpose in telling this story seems to be to say, "Look at these people! Weren't they weird?" Well, yeah, they were, but this style lacks any empathy or warmth. It's a coming-of-age novel without any lessons learned, just a shell-shocked "Oh, these people were awful! Let me tell you about them."
A lot of the anecdotes were jarring, gritty, and unbearable. You want to eviscerate characters that crop up on a page.
A terribly maddening book.
There is an interesting balance the memoir must maintain. Some of the eccentricities are so "out there," a reader cannot help but laugh. On the other hand, there is a deep affliction of mental illness underlying everything--and some manifestations of it are downright ugly--and there is nothing funny about that at all.
It's because of my ambivalence over this kind of presentation that I award three stars. I was absorbed by the story, but perhaps not as disturbed by it as I feel I should be, because so much of told was in a rather light-hearted way.
I had been thinking about picking up Running with Scissors when I realized I haven't read anything truly funny in a while. I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris and thought the logical step, since I have read everything he's currently published, to move on to Augusten Burroughs. I had always heard good things about him, and people seemed to be laughing out loud as they were turning the pages of his books.
Burroughs has a way with words. He writes like an honest man, stating things as they are and not shying away from difficult subject matter. He deals with his mothers numerous breakdowns the same way he deals with his obsessive boyfriend, his deadbeat father and the crazy therapist he is living with. He writes like a straight man in a comedy troop. His scenarios are already funny, but his deadpan style makes them something special.
While i didn't enjoy everything about Running with Scissors, I appreciate it for what it was. Its easy to get caught up in the weirdness of his early life, but once you put all the weirdness (and poop) into perspective it's a really enjoyable read. I think I still prefer Sedaris to Burroughs but I don't regret picking this one up.
Augusten Burroughs was a strange child. He liked shiny things, making his hair lie flat, and generally being fabulous. His mother was a poet dangling over the precipice of insanity, and his father turned to alcohol to cope. Out of his life fell his father, and into his life wandered Dr Finch, his mother's psychiatrist, in more than a little need of therapy himself. While his mum hails Dr Finch as her saviour and his dubious methods as genius, Augusten is drawn slowly away from her into the madness of the Finch household. Hope worships her father and believes that her cat is talking to her in dreams. Agnes eats dog biscuits and has to put up with her husband's patients taking over her house. Neil, a patient of Dr Finch's, wastes no time in setting up a bizarre gay relationship with 13-year-old Augusten. A lady with OCD lives in a room upstairs and never comes out. And Natalie, cynical and driven to madness by her family, becomes his new best friend.
This world - and the book itself - is by turns repulsive and attractive, brilliant and insane, hopeful and hopeless, hilarious and deadly sober. It is incredible, it is bizarre, and the memorable childhood translates into a memorable autobiography. I liked it so much that I just ordered the movie version (starring Annette Bening and Brian Cox) and I'll be looking for 'Dry' - the follow up and by all accounts just as good - very soon!
So: read this, enjoy it, but take it all with a grain of salt. Memoirs are all about sculpting one's life events into a cohesive story, and in Burroughs case, it seems to have taken more than a little fiction to do so.
Augusten says repeatedly in the book that a goal of his was to acheive fame, and that alone made me wonder about whether he was stretching the truth. I was also curious about the "Finch" family's reaction and lawsuit, so I read an interview from Vanity Fair and later interviews with Mr. Burroughs. I still don't have a good idea about how many of the stories were severely elaborated upon, but I feel sorry for Augusten.
Augusten thought that the "Finch" family, especially Natalie, would like what he wrote, but they were horrified by it, and he was hurt by their reaction. What they didn't see is that he loved their crasser parts, and many of the descriptions they (now) find horrible, he admired. He didn't hurt them out of spite, but out of ignorance.
The book is poetic, without being pretentious. The depiction of a young Burroughs being sloughed off by his biological parents and forced to live with a quack psychologist who is constantly risking the mental and physical health of his family is as disturbing as it is hilarious. It is certainly one of the funniest books I've ever read. Burroughs is grateful at many points for such a screwed up childhood, subtly pointing out to the reader how it shaped who he is today.
The book leaves you with a sense of wonder at how Burroughs didn't end up killing himself or being committed. His reflections on his oppression are brilliant, blunting showing the reader that while being able to do anything in the world he desired to do, he grew up without the knowledge of how to act in certain situations because of this freedom. This becomes abundantly clear when discovering his sexuality.
While the accuracy of Burroughs' remembrances are sometimes questionable (there are a few scenes where he's not present), his honesty and unique eye for observation make up for any faults. This book will more than likely make you want to read everything he has to offer.
To preface this review, I must say that I read this book when it came out more than a decade ago. My memory being what it is, that means I'm a bit fuzzy on all the details of this book. Nevertheless, I do remember being greatly absorbed by this book at the time, and my past self dog-eared many pages for my present self to revisit and find examples of quotable moments when Burroughs provides some insightful thought amongst the chaos of his life. Burroughs's writing style is very compelling - it's simple and concise enough to be read quickly and easily, but it's not simplistic. He has colorful metaphors and allusions as well as the aforementioned ability to find the dark humor in his pitiful situation.
Nevertheless, I recognize this book is not for everyone. Burroughs's life is pockmarked with neglect, abuse, sexual abuse, and all kinds of things that don't belong to genteel life. Reading about his life can certainly be uncomfortable at times, but again, I found that Burroughs was able to write in such a way that even the horrible things were somewhat tempered. As I mentioned earlier, Burroughs was also able to provide enough insights for the reader to feel hopeful about his own future prospects, with the book itself ending on a cautiously optimistic note.