Augusten Burroughs is the author of the bestselling trilogy, Running with Scissors, Dry, and Lust & Wonder. Return to the memoir that started it all.
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 paedophile 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.
This so-called memoir gave me some pretty strong emotions, mainly disgust and chingy shivers. I really enjoyed this novel initially but once I learned that quite a bit of this story was actually made up, I didn’t feel as strongly towards the book. So, let’s get into this:
This story takes the idea of a dysfunctional family to the max with a *somewhat true story* of the author’s childhood. Every singe character in this novel is so shocking and full of surprises! There’s the psychotic mother, abusive father, quack doctor, pedophile boyfriend….there’s really no end to the surprises. I felt that all of the characters were really well rounded. My favourite part is that the story is told for Augusten’s innocent point of view, so many things are only implied. I felt that this just brought so many layers to the story, leaving so many things open to interpretation.
Equally as dysfunctional as the characters are the antics they get into. Although this story is branded a “memoir” I felt like so many of the things that happened were so unbelievable – not in an amazing way, but in a “who would do that and how did they not end up in the hospital?!” sort of way. This gave me such a thrill and it really broadened my view of what may be happening behind closed doors. It’s so different than anything I have ever read before and probably anything I ever will read.
The definition of “family” is challenged in many ways and the idea of free range children is explored in depth. It’s truly a cringe-worthy and sad experience to read about how unfortunately far from “normal” Augusten’s childhood was (though it is reassuring to know that he’s a successful authors).
The only warning I have for those interested in reading this is that there is crude language, pedophilia, sexual assault, and wonderful examples of how to be a bad parent.