Thursday, June 26, 2008

Running with Scissors

What can be said about Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs? Well, many things. It was quirky, disgusting, disturbing, twisted, surprising, hilarious.

This was one of those books that people raved about and insisted I read so I finally picked it up. I wanted to read it before seeing the movie anyway.

It began normal enough (and by “normal” I mean what the ever loving hell??); dysfunctional family, dysfunctional kid. Kid is massively anal-retentive, must have his pants pressed and his hair shellacked in place, and he boils his quarters to keep them shiny. He also redecorates his room in tin foil chic.

Deirdre, his mother, has some delusion of grandeur of being a published poet in various magazines and sits her son down to listen to her pages-long prose and he just worships her.

scissors_cover.jpgMeanwhile, the father, Norman, is confused by these people he is somehow related to, has no idea how to communicate with them, and Deirdre and he constantly go round for round screaming and shouting, culminating with the Deirdre accusing Norman of trying to kill her. So what does he do? Loses himself in booze.

This book follows Augusten from the ages of about 11 to 18. And for most of the book I read with my jaw dropped and thinking, “no, that didn’t just happen”.

After finding some marriage counseling with a Dr. Finch, Augusten’s parents finally divorce and that’s about it for the dad for the rest of the book. From there, his mother is on a constant roller coaster of clinical depression and prescription drugs and so completely out of it that Augusten ends up spending more time at Dr. Finch’s home than his own.

Remembering that Augusten is a neat freak extraordinaire, his first step into the Finch home is a shock to his system. He expects a doctor’s home to be grand and tastefully decorated. What he encounters is a giant, dilapidated pink home with stacks of garbage in the yard. His mother and he walks inside and immediately dust motes land on his perfectly pressed slacks and linger. I about expected Augusten to start screaming and run outside.

In time, Augusten loses his neat freakiness and becomes just as slobby as everyone else around the house, begins hanging out with Dr. Finch’s rebellious daughter Natalie, and just lives life as if seeing a 5-year old boy take a crap under a piano is average, everyday events. Or discovering your mother has become a lesbian with the preacher’s wife. Or that Hope, another of Finch’s daughters, loses her marbles and thinks her cat has told her it’s his time to die so she traps it in a laundry basket to watch it go—and then later says she hears it calling to her from its grave.

But most disturbing to me was the fact that at age 13 Augusten began a relationship with the 33-year old schizophrenic adopted son of Dr. Finch, Bookman. Practically from the beginning it was known that Augusten was gay, so no big deal. But while he was gay in the sense that he wanted to grow up to create a shampoo and stylist empire, he hadn’t yet acted on it sexually.

Bookman took it upon himself to physically show Augusten what it meant to actually be gay and it was described in vivid detail. In fact, I was in bed reading when this chapter appeared and I gasped, causing my boyfriend (who was reading a book of his own) to glance over and ask what was up. I said, “you have to hear this” and I proceeded to read a couple paragraphs to him. He was silent and just blinked at me. I then said, “you need to read this book” and he responded, “no I don’t”. There ensued a quick discussion over whether or not they would show that scene in a movie exactly as it is in the book.

I suppose I would have been more disturbed by the relationship if Augusten himself didn’t seem so casual and okay with it all. Like, again, it was just another expected event in his odd life.

I don’t want to ruin the book by revealing too many spoilers, so I will leave the descriptions of the contents at that. I give this book a thumb’s up. And for all the dark and twisted bits, it was still humorous and entertaining.

Augusten Burrough’s brand of writing was swift and easy to understand, a quick read that can be gotten through on a flight from the Midwest to NYC.

He is not in the same category as David Sedaris though some try and compare the two. They are both gay and they both write autobiographical content. Other than that, the style was different. Sedaris makes me laugh out loud with a guffaw or two. Burrough’s elicited a few gasps, a smirk, and a couple giggles.

As for the movie based on Running With Scissors? God, what a load of manure that was. It was as if they pulled a few key elements from the book and then pulled the rest of the story from a screenwriter’s ass. They veered so far off from what was in the novel as to be *almost* unrecognizable. Perhaps if I hadn’t read the book I would like the movie. So readers, read the book—moviegoers, don’t read the book. Seriously, this movie was so bad that I hit mute when the phone rang so I could try and eavesdrop on my boyfriend, missing a good 20 minutes of the flick. The single saving grace in that movie was Alec Baldwin as the dad. I don’t even like that guy, but he was fantastic as the bewildered Norman with a perpetual, “who the hell are these people??” look on his face. Annette Benning played the part of Deidre. What happened to her? She looked like crinkled wax paper that had been wrapped around a 5th grader’s ham sandwich and left in the sun.

Ah well, this is about books, not movies. So in conclusion, book is good, movie is so very, very bad.


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