Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Review: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs is October's LOLAs book club book. As I was way down on the request list at the library, I ended up getting an audio version and listened to the majority of it when I traveled to Ohio by myself two weekends ago. I finished it in bits chauffeuring the kids around town. I am writing this review before my book club meeting so I don't get clouded by other's thoughts. We are meeting tonight - hopefully I'll remember to write down other thoughts and insights to add to this review.

My initial thoughts on this memoir are: "Did this really happen?"; "Wow, what a horrific childhood!"; "Every other word was a swear word!".

"Did this really happen?"
The summary of the book from the author's website: RUNNING WITH SCISSORS 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, Augusten Burroughs 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...

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS 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.

Since there hasn't been any news about this not being true, I am sure it is. But it's a definite story that no one would ever want for themselves. The summary is a good one and I don't know that I can add more without giving away a bunch of the book. It is definitely an intriguing memoir and draws you in even as you are wanting to distance yourself from the reality of it.

"Wow, what a horrific childhood!"
Many folks, including myself, have had childhoods that were not as nice as we are hoping we are giving our kids. I would venture to guess more folks have had dysfunctional childhoods than not - abuse, divorce, moving, mean neighborhood kids, gangs, etc. But I cannot even but any of those on the same level as what happens to Augusten. He goes from one very dysfunctional, not safe environment into an even worse one, growing up in the house of his mother's shrink. I still cannot imagine the depths of the sadness and the, what I can only think to call horror, of growing up in that situation.

To gather more information for this review I was exploring the author's website. Mr. Burroughs has quite a lengthy and very interesting biography written on his website. It was well worth the time to read that after reading about his childhood.

"Every other word was a swear word!"
I don't know if it would have been as noticeable when reading but in the audio version, it felt like there were more swear words than other words. I realize in the messed-up, truly dysfunctional lifestyle that the author is describing that swear words are just words to use. But, for me, it took a conscious decision to ignore them and not base my reaction to the book and the life story being told on the use of the foul words. I will be interested to know if it was as noticeable to those in my book club that read the book.

Overall, I can see why this book was on the best seller list for so long (four years!). It is definitely a memoir that draws you in and won't let you go. I'm excited to go tonight to have some chili, puppy chow and a great discussion!

Rating: 3/5 stars


Anonymous said...

I read this book a while ago and didn't like it at all. My parents, who are 81 and 88, loved it, though. Go figure.

Dawn said...

I decided to try an audio book over the summer, when my book group was reading Nick Hornby's *A Long Way Down*.

I thought I'd listen to the book thru my laptop speakers, while I got dinner ready. I lasted about half a "page" into the book and had to switch to traditional book that evening ... I hadn't considered all the F%$*# that my kids would hear!

(I haven't read *Running with Scissors*. I did enjoy *A Long Way Down*, despite the cursing.)

Michele said...

Kathy - the book was like a train wreck/car crash - I was oddly drawn to it at the same time as I was revolted. Most of the book clubbers felt the same. Noone LOVED it but most thought it was a good book to have read and discussed. And since it was such a big hit a few years ago, we can now all cross it off the list. That also feels good too.

Michele said...

Dawn - yes, I'll definitely have to learn which audio books are suitable for in the car and which are for the MP3 only. This one was not for kid consumption!