Running with Scissors: A Memoir
by Augusten Burroughs
About a Boy
A review by Adrienne Miller
The family who eventually raised him (his mother's analyst's family) owned an electroshock therapy home set and traded insults like, "You're so oral. You'll never make it to genital" -- and still this was an improvement over his original home life. Burroughs's introverted alcoholic father was indeed no match for his grandiose, poetry-writing, smoke-out-the-ears crazy wife, who once, waving aside the millionth magazine rejection slip, announced to her young son, "You know, Augusten. Your mother was meant to be a very famous woman." (That someone thinks she'll "get famous" by being a published poet is sufficient evidence that she's pretty far gone.) And then there's the time Burroughs bore witness to a woman performing cunnilingus on his mother...
At times, the madcappery in Augusten Burroughs's entertaining memoir does feel rather too willed. "Visiting the personal residence of John Ritter would not be more exciting than this," he writes when he's preparing to visit the analyst's house for the first time. Running with Scissors is funny and gregarious, but its humor often strikes me as sitcom humor: You enjoy it at the time, but afterward you may be left feeling uneasy, empty. The epilogue was a bad idea, and in particular gives the book an unpleasant after-school-special feeling. The problem with TV references is that they're a shorthand for any kind of meaning. A line such as "the lady reminded me of Edith Bunker from All in the Family, except with really bad posture" doesn't have the resonance of a real, written description like "He smells funny. It's almost like a food, like you could eat the smell." There are glimpses of genuine despair and heartbreak here, but too often the writing feels less convincing than it should.
Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.
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