Tag Archives: memoir lawsuit

In Mary Gordon’s Shadow

A year or so ago, I read Mary Gordon’s memoir The Shadow Man. I felt an immediate kinship with Mary because her book is about searching for her father’s past.

The Shadow Man

Before I’d read Gordon’s book, Bernard Cooper’s memoir about his father exploded what I had been told about memoir structure, showing me it is possible to deviate from chronology, to use flashbacks, and to merge the past with the present. Gordon’s story struck me as similar to my own because we share a similar problem: that our story is really about the process we went through to learn about the pasts of our families. When I finished The Shadow Man, I realized that now I had another memoir to add to Cooper’s memoir and Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club to serve as models for me.

Mary Gordon actually spends a fair amount of time detailing her research in the library and in contacting strangers. The reader gets to participate in the research process. This is like following Nancy Drew’s progress in solving a mystery–albeit without the imprisonment in the cistern, tarantula/black widow spider, etc.

While Gordon’s book focuses on the actual research process, my research will be more of a framework with more stories from the past and present. However, this book was eye-opening to me because writing teachers say you have to put everything into action and that doing research, reading letters, etc. are not active enough–that these moments of small epiphanies have to be put into scene. It’s not always possible to put into scene because if the scene didn’t occur the writer can’t make it up as it’s not fiction!

The twist in Gordon’s book is that Mary Gordon was raised Catholic by her parents, although her father was born Jewish. But he had become a (IMO dangerous) anti-Semite and this made Gordon’s search for his past–and really the man himself as he had died while she was so young–a very complicated emotional ordeal.

Let me say that Mary Gordon’s book is gorgeously written. Maybe this heavy reliance on process wouldn’t work in the hands of a lesser writer, but it really works here. Will you enjoy the book? I’m not sure. It depends on the type of books you like. I think someone like me who is curious about family history, 20th century history, family relations, and beautiful, almost lyrical, writing will love it.


Maybe you’ve read one or more of Mary Gordon’s other books? Check out her website.



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