A memoir by Augusten Burroughs
Born into an already troubled family—
—wait. Let’s tell it like it is. Because in Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, Running With Scissors, he tells it like it was. And it was weird.
Born into a totally screwed-up family, with an alcoholic father and a psychotic mother who fought raging battles on a regular basis, Augusten Burroughs didn’t have much chance for a happy childhood. He quit school after sixth grade. His mother couldn’t manage him (she could barely manage herself.) So she farmed him out/gave him up/handed him over—to her psychiatrist.
And that was worse.
In Burroughs’ account, Dr. Finch (all names have been changed except the author’s own), believes in a “no rules” policy for every member of his household, down to his daughter’s baby, who is allowed and even encouraged to poop under the piano. True to a hippie ideal of the early 1970’s when the story is set, there are no limits. There is no structure. There are scads of cockroaches.
And there is a pedophile living in the guest house. Although he’s approximately 20 years older than our young hero, he becomes Augusten’s first love. The boy has known he’s gay since an early age, but his affair with this man is a dysfunctional introduction to sex, love, and power.
There are some situations where nothing will do but the ugly words. In relating conversations, arguments, and full-fledged battles, Burroughs uses the words he remembers hearing. If you don’t like rough language, this is not a book you’ll enjoy. Even if you do like rough language, I recommend you skip the “Toilet Bowl Readings” chapter if you’re reading during lunch.
Yet Burroughs doesn’t overdo it. He could probably make it worse, but I feel like I’m reading a straightforward story, told with little embellishment. No one wants to read a memoir of a difficult childhood that drips with rancor and blame. Jeanette Walls’ best-selling The Glass Castle is an example of a tale of bizarre childhood told not only without anger, but with a great deal of love. In Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs keeps any bitterness, real or imagined, out of the story, but this one is told less with love than with a sense of awe at the way he grew up, and at his survival.
Related in a series of crazy episodes, “Running With Scissors” shows how desperately children need adult guidance, how heartbreaking it is for them to live without it, and how it’s possible, if improbable, to finally learn to guide yourself.
Petrea Burchard is a local Altadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent, and now an author. She contributes bi-monthly book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, and Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.