Tag Archives: Augusten Burroughs

I Contradict Myself

If you read my review of the Augusten Burroughs’ book Running With Scissors, you know I’m conflicted about it. I feel differently about the prequel A Wolf at the Table–the story of his frightening father.

a wwolf at the table

In this book Burroughs captures my attention up front by saying that for years he couldn’t remember much from his childhood about his father. When it all starts coming back, it’s almost too much to bear.

He also presents himself as a sympathetic character, one that I feel a deep empathy for. One of the ways he does this is by showing how his father treated one of their dogs–and how it bothered Augusten.

They had three dogs, and Burroughs loved them all. The two larger dogs were allowed inside the house by the father. The smallest, “a little black elkhound with a curlicue tail” named Grover, was not allowed in the house. The reason was that the father, for no apparent reason, considered him an “outdoor dog.” Grover “practically never left the deck where he slept, pressed against the sliding glass doors.” Burroughs writes: “Like there was a special breed of dog that might die if exposed to a sofa.” This upsets Burroughs (and me). The last two paragraphs in this passage are especially poignant:

Even on the coldest winter night when Grover was no more than a black, furry mound curled into himself and pressed up against the house, my father wouldn’t let him in.

Sometimes, I let bad thoughts linger. Like, if my father made Grover sleep outside in the cold, what stopped him from locking me out there, too? He had two sons; what if he decided to make the younger one the “outside” son?

And, in a way, that is exactly what does happen to Burroughs.

One of the strongest threads in this book is the secret that Burroughs’ father shared with him. The question is: did it happen or not? But it’s Burroughs asking the question this time, not the reader.

If you look up reviews you will see that some critics don’t like this book. They might miss the humor they found in Running with Scissors. But this book has real heart. Some readers say that Burroughs couldn’t possibly remember the mobile above his crib. I don’t know what they are talking about because I remember a vivid event from when I was still in a crib–less than two years old. I remember my room in detail, especially the shadows and lights and special objects like my music box.

In reading reviews of this book, I noticed that Burroughs’ brother, who has Asperger’s, says he has trouble reading behavior in other people and that he believes their father had some of his own “autistic traits.” This is a controversial subject because many of us love people who have Asperger’s or are autistic. Their condition doesn’t make them cruel to children or animals.

If you had a very difficult parent, this book might break your heart.



Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Running from Lawyers

I haven’t seen the film Running With Scissors. But this trailer looks similar to the book.

I’ve read the book.

Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors is the weirdest one I’ve read. According to this story, Burroughs had a horrific childhood. His father was a terrible alcoholic, and his troubled mother abandoned him to her psychiatrist. But it gets worse. The psychiatrist was wildly inappropriate and his household was in chaos. Burroughs was molested by the psychiatrist’s son.

What I found most disturbing, though, was Burroughs’ light rendering of this tale of his childhood.

The reviews mainly focus on this humor and how it makes such a dark tale palatable. Sometimes I found myself being taken in by this humor, but most of the time I felt odd being complicit (by reading) in making light of what Burroughs went through. It’s his choice to coat the events in that tone, but it demeans the events for other people who have gone through similar situations.

Running with Scissors

So what did I learn from reading this memoir? That you need protect yourself from being sued as much as you possibly can.  Because he was. Sued. By the family that raised him (Turcotte in real life; Finch in the book).

This article tells how the lawsuit was eventually settled.

Author Augusten Burroughs and publisher St. Martin’s Press agreed to call the work a “book” instead of “memoirs,” in the author’s note — though it still will be described as a memoir on the cover and elsewhere — and to change the acknowledgments page in future editions to say that the Turcotte family’s memories of events he describes “are different than my own.” It will also express regret for “any unintentional harm” to them.

Here’s an article in Vanity Fair telling the point of view of the psychiatrist’s family.

In this article, you can meet Burroughs’ mother.

The more I read about this case, the more I am uncertain who to believe. The story seems fantastical to me, but what if it all really happened?

The Turcottes say Burroughs made up many events (including the name Augusten Burroughs as his real name was Chris Robison)–and that he embellished most of the rest.

I am not going to presume to be a judge and jury. All I can do is take the book on the book’s own merits. For me the tone wasn’t right for a memoir with the events and characterizations that are included in this book. But if you can get past it being a memoir and think of it as fiction, it seems more like a John Irving novel, like The World According to Garp (RIP Robin Williams).  And I love John Irving novels.

Maybe I’ll watch the movie. Should I?





Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing