Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 304 pages, 2002

Rating: 7/10

Reason for Reading: The title of the book gave me a giggle a few years ago when I was working at a bookstore. It took the library a while to get a copy, however.

Synopsis: Burroughs gives his readers an open view into his teenage years and the very bizarre life he leads after his wannabe-poet-mother dumps him into a new home so she can concentrate on her writing. But not just any home, the home of her psychiatrist, Dr Finch, who has the odd propensity to let patients move in at random and add to his already chaotic family. To the usual teenage traumas, Burroughs adds (amongst other things) a family that predicts the future by feces, a pedophile, and a man that applauds the initiative shown in kids that literally bring down the ceiling.

Why you should read this book: Chances are good that after reading Running with Scissors you’ll never want to call your family crazy ever again. Burroughs is unflinching in his look at his childhood – it’s as if he’s lost any sense of shame or secrecy because he had no one ‘normal’ around him to indicate how unusual his situation really was. If you delight in sheer weirdness, Burroughs’ surrogate family will leave you scratching your head and laughing out loud. A chance to explore Jerry Springer oddities under the guise of literary endeavors.

Why you should avoid this book: Burroughs isn’t a particularily impressive writer, style-wise – he just happened to be a guy with a unique story to tell. Adding to this is the fact that Burroughs is pretty passive in regards to all of the chaos that surrounds him. Personality-wise, he fades away in comparison to the eccentric people around him. A dark sense of humour is a must if you want to read Running with Scissors without wanting to call the Children’s Aid Society to place retroactive charges against more or less every adult in Burrough’s life.

Opening paragraph:

My mother is standing in front of the bathroom mirror smelling polished and ready; like Jean Naté, Dippity Do and the waxy sweetness of lipstick. Her white, handgun-shaped blow-dryer is lying on top of the wicker clothes hamper, ticking as it cools. She stands back and smooths her hands down the front of her swirling, psychedelic Pucci dress, biting the inside of her cheek.

Fabulous quotes:

‘What’s wrong with her?’
Hope sighed and set the box of croutons on the coffee table. ‘Joranne is a very brilliant lady. She’s incredibly well-read and very interesting. She loves Blake.’
‘He was a painter,’ Hope smiled at me. Her face said, Oh, I forgot you’re only twelve. You’re so mature for your age.
‘Oh,’ I said. I still didn’t get why she was here.
‘She’s an obsessive compulsive neurotic,’ Hope stated.
‘A what?’
She turned sideways on the sofa to face me. ‘Obsessive compulsive neurotic. That’s the technical term for her condition.’
This sounded impossibly exotic and I immediately wished I was one too, whatever it was.

A week later, when my mother’s medication had finally reached its optimum level in her bloodstream and she was back to normal, she had little memory of the father she had brought home for me.
‘I’d rather not talk about that right now. This whole episode has been very intense for me and I don’t have the energy to process everything right away.’ She was drained of energy, pale and lifeless. ‘But I do believe that may have been my last psychotic episode. I think I finally broke through to my creative unconscious.’
I marveled at my mother’s view of her mental illness. To her, going psychotic was like going to an artist’s retreat.

Also recommended: When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten; The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson; Queer Eye for the Straight Guy by Ted Allen et al.

Also by this author: Possible Side Effects; Sellevision; Dry; Magical Thinking: True Stories.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Burroughs reveres author Elizabeth Berg (Open House; What We Keep) because of her honest writing.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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