Book Review: Running with Scissors (2002)

It’s simply by coincidence that I picked up Running with Scissors on a stroll through the library just days before the uproar over James Frey’s memoir began. A number of people who knew I liked Frey’s work had suggested this one. I’ll still take Frey’s, even if it’s more fictional than represented. (I do feel somewhat compelled to point out that in reviewing Frey’s latest work I said, “You also have to wonder whether Frey indulges in a little bit of literary license with his life.”)

Anyway, Augusten Burroughs’ memoir of his teen years is also a generally well-written tale. And, like Frey’s, you just gotta wonder how much of it is “creative nonfiction.” If it isn’t, you gotta wonder about the poor guy.

Basically, his family is so beyond dysfunctional that, at age 13, his mother sends him to live with her psychiatrist. The shrink is no prize winner either. He has a room in his house he proudly calls “The Masturbatorium.” His household, which includes his daughters, his wife and various others who come and go, is a ramshackle place much like an anything goes commune. Burroughs smokes pot, takes the variety of pills the shrink freely hands out to him, stays home and pretty much does what he wants. When both his mother and the shrink learn he is engaged in a homosexual affair with a man more than twice his age, they see no problem with it.

The memoir is told in a series of basically sequential vignettes, culminating in Burroughs reaching 18 and contemplating leaving for New York City. The memoir makes clear his teen years were horribly strange and Burroughs plays it both comedically and for shock value. What is most shocking is that he survived in sufficient shape to write a memoir.

It turned out I had always been a smoker. I just hadn’t had any cigarettes.

Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors

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