"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Running with Scissors and Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Running With Scissors Running with Scissors is the first book of two (so far) of the author's memoirs. Someone who read it posted on a message board that she didn't think it was true. It was too unbelievable. I can't imagine it not being true. No one could make up this life.

When Burroughs was about 12 years old, his parents split up and his mother — a frustrated, unorthodox, and often psychotic poet — gave him to her even more unorthodox psychiatrist to raise. Burroughs spent time in both homes, neither providing stability or normalcy in any sense of those words. The shrink, Dr. Finch, believed in letting children make their own decisions and rule their own lives, and in that atmosphere of complete freedom, young Augusten comes to feel trapped by an existence he can't control.

The squalor of the Finch home, the freeling dispensed drugs du jour, and the erratic behavior of the extended family (not all of whom were related, including patients of Dr. Finch who moved in) are related in complete matter-of-factness, as is Augusten's friendship with Neil, a member of the Finch extended family and a pedophile who teaches Augusten about sex as he becomes obsessed with the boy.

Though disturbing, the book is also riotously funny. Burroughs has a wonderfully ironic narrative voice, both accepting of his life and appalled. He carries the reader along on an episodic journey of vignettes of a life and this reader is eager to start reading Dry, the sequel. Good memoir, for me, should read like fiction, effortlessly involving me in the person's life. Burroughs excelled in attaining that goal.

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Dry is the second of Burroughs' memoirs and is a more focused trip into his life and head. Given his background (see review below of his earlier volume), it would have been amazing if he hadn't become an alcoholic. Along with his love/hate relationship with alcohol, he also gives his readers a wry, cynical tour of his adventures in advertising, telling his tale in the dry, matter-of-fact tone and with genuine wit and openness as he displayed in the earlier book.

Burroughs takes his reader through drinking binges and rehab, a commercial shoot and the death of a close friend to AIDS, all told with candor and self-deprecation. I got caught up in his life, cringed when he did stupid things, cheered when he acted in his best interest (admittedly, not often), and hope there will be another volume about his sobriety. Here is an author I do not want to see lost to alcoholism. He has too much to say.