Book Reviews

Book Review: Running with Scissors

‘Running with Scissors’ is a memoir by Augusten Burroughs about his crazy childhood and adolescence years with his dysfunctional family. His mother is a struggling writer who suffers from some form of mental illness (possibly bipolar or a personality disorder) and his father is a functional alcoholic who works as a university professor. Augusten’s older brother is John Elder Robison who wrote his own autobiography about growing up without a diagnosis. However, due to the age difference between the two, John is featured minimally as he had already moved out of home when Augusten started his memoirs. Augusten’s parents constantly bicker and fight to the point where he thought they would definitely kill one another.

In order to save their marriage, they saw a psychiatrist, Dr Finch, one who his mother had been seeing individually. However, his parents did end up getting divorced. Some years after that, he began living with Dr Finch and his own dysfunctional family. Apparently, Dr Finch opened up his home to his patients and that included a paedophile who became Augusten’s lover, a woman with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and of course, Augusten. Dr Finch’s household is quite different from Augusten’s own volatile one where there still were rules and regulations. In Dr Finch’s house, once a person reached the age of 13, they were free to do as they pleased. Hence, if it meant dating an adult, it was fine. If a child didn’t want to go to school, that too was fine. If Dr Finch wanted to sleep around with other ‘wives’, that too was acceptable.

Running with Scissors is a witty look into what could be perceived as being a horrible chlidhood. Yet, Burroughs looks at it through dark humour and not self-pity as some memoirs do. He doesn’t look at himself as a victim but looks at his life through curious lenses. Just as an outsider would. However, at the same time, you can see just how messed up everyone is. He does seem to realise at one point that despite all the freedom in Dr Finch’s house, there can be something as too much freedom. It seems to reach a point where no one cares. He takes us through his trouble with school, his sexual escapades, understanding his sexual orientation, his relationship with the paedophile, his trysts with drugs and alcohol and of course, dealing with a parent with mental health problems.

He has changed the names of the characters in the book and I think that’s understandable given that they are all so messed up. It probably wouldn’t be fair to them especially if they have started families of their own to be known in such a manner. Dr Finch is a weird character and I was very surprised that he wasn’t monitored by the medical association as he was quite dodgy in terms of his practice. While Augusten did have his ups and downs, I think the main thing he seems to say is that he is still managing. Despite his messed up childhood, he can manage. He’s not perfect. But he is living a decent reasonable life.

If you do read it, be prepared to be shocked.

My rating:


Until next time,

***This has been cross-posted at Bond with Books***

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  • Titaxy
    26 April 2011 at 10:44 am

    After reading a couple of memoirs, I am thinking about taking a break from those because they are usually so heart wrenching. Especially with dysfunctional families where the children are affected. Unlike with fiction, where I know it’s not a true story, memoirs take a toll on me. (although some that I’ve read recently have disturbed me a lot). Anyway, will pick up this when I get back on memoir reading track 🙂