Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Recent Reading: "Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs

I thought I'd occasionally post a quick review of something I'm reading in preperation for the forthcoming lengthy, multi-part reviews of competing visions for the future of evangelical Christianity in the Emergent Church theology text Generous Orthodoxy and Bill Hybels more recent thoughts. These projects will unfold through the rest of december and into January during my bi-annual celebration of "too much time". For now, here are a few thoughts on what many consider one of the best current memoirs written.

First, a brief summary of the work, this time borrowed directly from the publisher's account:
"Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock- therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances."

With that background in mind, I was expecting something in line with either Dave Eggers Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or David Sedaris Naked. This presuppostion was partly based on the summary I read but also on the fact that people recommend this work if you like Sedaris or Eggers. If you come into this book because someone told you to read because you already know you like David Sedaris or because you have read Dave Eggers than you will be confused, dissapointed, and disturbed throughout this work.

Burroughs experiences are far more tragic than that of Sedaris. Although he attempts to craft these experiences in a comic light, the observant reader may ultimately find the tragic underlying overcoming the comedic presentation. In this sense, Burroughs comedy is darker than Sedaris (if this is possible). Those who appreciate Eggers style of confronting suffering and sorting through it openly in his writing may feel as though Burroughs has masked his experience of suffering with a smile and has yet to fully disclose the effect of the experiences on his young mind. This becomes most evident in the entirely unfunny journal excerpts included in the account.

Overall, because I read the text with these two other texts in mind, I am unable to identify my response to the text. Either it did not take suffering seriously enough, is not really that funny, or has created a spot between Sedaris and Eggers of a unique brilliance. On I rated the book a three with the understanding that if I ever conclude that Burroughs simply is not as funny as Sedaris or not as reflective and revealing as Eggers it would receive a 1 or 2 and if I determine ultimately that Burroughs has offered a new way to present suffering it would receive a 4 or 5. Either way, recommended reading if you ultimately find the suffering of others amusing, have never read about homosexual sexual experiences, or need to be reminded that someone has suffered worse than you and has survived. Not recommended if you are offended by mildly explicit homosexual sexual experiences, believe that ultimately everything is ok in the world, or that God allows suffering for the greater good of humanity.


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