By Augusten Burroughs
Needed something light for the flight home from my Xmas holiday in Vancouver. So at Lawrence’s used bookstore, I picked up this “hilarious childhood memoir” that has adorned the NYTs bestsellers list and been made into a Hollywood movie (which I heard had made some critic’s list of the one of the Worst Movies of 2006). Despite that, the book ended up being quite enjoyable, and helped pass a good chunk of my 5+ hour flight.
Burroughs grew up in small-town Massachusetts with a distant, alcoholic father and a crackpot mother with delusions of poetic grandeur. His parents inevitably divorced, and in the turmoil, he got legally adopted by his mother’s psychiatrist, the highly unorthodox Dr Finch, who may or may not be as deranged as some of his patients, if not more.
Thus the 12-year-old journal-keeping Burroughs came to live in the disorderly, dilapidated Victorian mansion with Dr Finch’s bizarre family comprised of his wife, two daughters, an absent adopted son, and an obsessive-compulsive patient who has never left her guest room since she stepped in two years previous.
Yup, “Running with Scissors” felt very much like a Wes Anderson film with some “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” thrown in. You can see why Hollywood wanted to adapt this, as the cast of colourful characters ranged from the charmingly eccentric to the psychotically bananas. At times, it was a little hard to believe that every significant person in the author’s young life was some sort of unconventional oddball or nutcase. Even if some of the events were slightly exaggerated, still, you can’t make up some of the shit that went down in the Finch household (no pun intended).
The memoir covered a span of 4 years or so and comprised of very selective, yet cohesively narrative, vignettes. The tone was always kept somewhat light and casual, so you never felt like you could really get inside the author’s head of how it must have felt to have insanity rip your family apart.
Interestingly, Burroughs barely went to high school, but you can recognize that he nevertheless had a natural flair for writing and a sardonic wit. His editors must have had a field day correcting his spelling and grammar (why bother with learning such mundane things at school when you’re growing up in such a surreally entertaining environment). Although "Running With Scissors" didn’t exactly explore the depths of human emotions, it was ultimately a very good read with some touching, memorable moments.