Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

from here
Running with Scissors, written and read by Augusten Burroughs, was one of the best audiobooks I listened to this year, though it was hardly one of the best books I read.

Much like hearing David Sedaris read his own work, Running with Scissors was well served by its author's practiced story teling style. If Portnoy's Complaint was Philip Roth stand-up, then this worked the same way- the larger than life exploits and the unfathomable relationships.

Running with Scissors is, in its own way, a worthy memoir. More than a collection of events, it tells the story of Augusten as a casualty to his mother's struggle with her mental health. It carries the usual defamation law suits associated with modern memoirs; but I'm utterly uninterested in its truthfulness- it's structure is what makes it worth reading. What kept me interested in Running with Scissors was how it functions as a bildungsroman.

Background: The bildungsroman is a novel about growing up;  the main character sets out from home, usually scarred by some tragedy and at odds with the world. Over time, he grows into a better version of himself, usually now comfortably a part of society and in a position to help others on their own journeys.

Running with Scissors fits the first half of the formula: young Augusten's world is turned upside down by his parent's divorce, his father's indifference, and his mother's solipsism and psychosis. His mother hands him over to the care of her shrink, who brings Augusten into his dilapidated house. The place has a Lord of the Flies social order- a put upon mother trying to hold things together, and the shrink whose authority is paramount but wielded haphazardly, the daughters whose lives could serve in a decade of case studies, and the other adopted son who becomes Augusten's lover.

Augusten grows, but does he mature? By the end of the book, he is older. He abandons formal education, takes it up again, struggles and (since we are reading the book) ultimately succeeds. While he never adopts conventional morals, he succeeds in living by a moral code of sorts- he recognizes and regrets his most destructive actions.

At the end of Running with Scissors, Augusten is not yet in a position to be a leader to the rest of the world, but he has, at least, extricated himself from the other characters of the book. When the many layered bomb at the heart of his relationship with his mother and his adoptive father finally explodes, Augusten leaves them all behind and sets off for the Big City. So the bildungsroman ends where it began: a young man sets out from home.

Book 49 of my book-a-week challenge.

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