The memoir of Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors, is a bit like watching a train crash, you don’t really want to see it but for some reason you can’t turn away. It is, at times, quite unbelievably bizarre and disturbing, this being made all the more so given the fact that it is not a work of fiction. I came to be reading this particular book as my sister had read it and needed someone to talk about it to (it’t that kind of book), this says something about our love of books, talking books and our relationship in general – willing to share the experience of a disturbing book.
I would describe the book at grotesquely fascinating, but not for the fate of heart, despite the sticker proclaiming that no one would be able to put this book down. I must admit I was eager to see what happened in the end, but getting there was sometimes rocky. Burroughs describes in graphic detail his early sexual encounters with a much older man as well as the strange and outrageous behaviour of the family he lived as a teen. If it was a film (which apparently it has been made into) I would be watching parts of it through my fingers not really sure I wanted to see what was on the screen.
Augusten Burroughs is born into an extremely dysfunctional family, his father a raging alcoholic who in the end washes his hands of both his wife and his son, and a mother constantly on the brink (and sometimes over the brink) of insanity. His much older brother leaves home when Augusten is very young and has almost nothing to do with the family from that time on. Eventually Augusten’s mother seeks treatment from the incredibly odd psychiatrist, Dr Finch, leaves her husband and arranges for her son to move in with the Finch’s and their strange assortment of live-in psychiatric patients. Dr Finch believes that a child reaches intellectual, emotional and even sexual maturity at the age of 13 and from there they can no longer be made to do anything against their will and that all children should be able to choose their own parents/family. This explains why one of his young daughters lives with a group of roaming hippies, and another lives as the adopted daughter, though in reality it is a sexual relationship, with a wealthy middle-aged man. Likewise the thirteen year old Augusten finds himself in a similar relationship with a Dr Finch’s adopted son/patient, Neil Bookman who is in his thirties.
The family seek guidance from God when making most life decisions, minor and major, by doing ‘bible dips’ (opening the bible and randomly pointing to a word which will then be interpreted in a way to answer whatever question has been asked) or by studying the form and shape of ‘The Doctors’ bowel movements. Augusten’s teen years were spent mainly in the company of Natalie Finch who quickly becomes his soul mate, as they dive from one crazy plan (ie DIYing a skylight in the kitchen roof) to another.
If it weren’t for the quick wit and easy, almost nonchalant style of Burroughs’ writing this would be an impossibly uncomfortable story to read. To think that the people and circumstances are in fact real and that Burroughs actually lived through each and every experience and came out with his own sanity intact beggars belief. So while I was thoroughly engaged by this book, it is not one I would recommend to everyone. But if, like me, you find the bizarre and macabre somewhat fascinating, then perhaps this is worth picking up.