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Macbeth1991

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The Custom of the Country
Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin
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Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Alymer Maude

Running with Scissors: A Memoir

Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs


Leo Tolstoy writes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”


I’ve always read “happy families” in that quotation as meaning normal families, and assumed by its positioning that normal, happy families were more prevalent. I wonder. Tolstoy’s dichotomy seems simplistic. I’m not sure I know any family that is routinely happy or normal. My parents and brother always ensured I’d win any “crazy family” contest hands down, but even the ostensibly “happy” families I’ve known have had their times of craziness and discontent.

Nevertheless…There is crazy and there is CRAAAZZY.

I’d heard of Running with Scissors for years, but hadn’t read the memoir or watched the movie. I’d begun reading Burroughs’ Dry the other day, but then thought I should start with his first memoir. He’s apparently gained some skill because what struck me first is how poorly Scissors is written. There’s no attempt or knowledge here to use language other than in its most utilitarian sense. Burroughs communicates meaning, but goes no further. I got the impression he used that childhood diary he kept referring to in the book and just added some transition. It has all the poetry of the “and then, and then, and then…” type of narrative your children will sometimes torture you with. …And yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition.

More damningly, though, is Burroughs’ in your face content. In a chapter coyly entitled, “The Joy of Sex (Preteen Edition),” Burroughs’ gives us a long, detailed description of a blow job he – then only 13 years old - gives or is mostly forced to give to his 33 year-old quasi-brother, Neil, who has been adopted by the crazy Finch family, who later adopts Augusten. No matter what the circumstances, this is rape, and yet, this scene, like so many others in the memoir, lacks poignancy because of Burroughs’ relentlessly “take this,” now “take that” mode of narration.

Burroughs apparently views memoir as a form of assault. I’m not surprised to learn he’s been in a lawsuit regarding details of this book, because it feels ramped up. Worse yet, given that I’ve never felt the line between fiction and nonfiction is very clear, and consequently do not get too worked up when I hear that a memoir or biography isn’t always “true,” Burroughs memoir fails to move his audience in any way. Ultimately, I felt like I was reading one crazy, sordid, or otherwise repugnant episode after another, each consciously more sensational than the last. There was no point, and no resolution.

The only point was how much the reader, like Augusten, wants to take in.