Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $7.99, 352 pages)
Don’t you ever feel like we’re chasing something? Something bigger. I don’t know, it’s like something that only you and I can see. Like we’re running, running, running? Yeah, I said. We’re running alright. Running with scissors.
I was intrigued when my book club chose this memoir, Running With Scissors, as our first nonfiction choice. Rumored to be both dark and humorous, it did not fit our typical book club culture. However, our discussion was lively and laden with comments from “disturbing” to “hated it.”
Those that grew up in the 1960s recognized some of the “character traits” mentioned in the book, while a younger group was left on the edge of their comfort zone. Yet the discussion was one of the best we’ve had. We found ourselves discovering the humor as we recalled particular details described within the book. As a memoir it was, to me, a refreshingly different view of the typical, mostly not-so-interesting portraits of everyday life.
Burroughs describes his eccentric and unconventional upbringing with incredible detail and honesty, yet with a large serving of humor that made it hard to put down. He describes his childhood, mostly under the guardianship of Dr. Finch – his mother’s Santa Claus look-a-like psychiatrist, following his mother’s series of mental breakdowns. This was a home with high energy in which arguments were encouraged to dispense anger and to develop emotional growth. Within Burroughs’s unpredictable daily life, regular off the wall adventures occurred and conventional standards like rules, discipline and structure were unheard of.
The problem was not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do.
Burroughs’s story includes atypical details of his life such as his relationship with a patient of Dr. Finch’s, a man three times Burroughs’s age, and the witnessing of his mother’s psychotic breakdowns. Many of the details are descriptive, vulgar and somewhat horrifying, yet the story is written in delightful prose with dark humor and such blatant honesty you’ll find yourself continuing to read… If only to find out what else Augusten could possibly be exposed to, and feeling the need to find out what happens to these real-life characters. (An update is contained in the Epilogue.)
While I truly enjoyed the tremendous writing skill and recommend Burroughs for sharing his eccentric story, I have to admit that the themes and facts were disturbing enough to impact my enjoyment of the book. However, good books are created to challenge us with new perspectives. They can challenge us with new, unique perspectives and force us to think outside of the box and outside of our comfort zones. This memoir most certainly does that and, therefore, this book is recommended.
This book was purchased by the reviewer. “Running With Scissors is hilarious, freak-deaky, berserk, controlled, transcendent, touching, affectionate, vengeful, all-embracing… It makes a good run at blowing every other (memoir) out of the water.” Carolyn See, The Washington Post