by Augusten Burroughs
Picador USA, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 10th 2004
Running with Scissors was a
memoir of Augusten Burrough's youth detailing his vastly dysfunctional family
and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his adoptive family, of his mother's
psychiatrist. The treatment he described was so neglectful and shocking it was
hard to believe it could really have happened, but it probably did. At the end
of that memorable first memoir, Burroughs set off for the big city of New York.
Unfortunately for both him and his
readers, once he had settled in and achieved amazing financial success, he
became a drunk. Even though he didn't even graduate from high school, he found
his niche in the advertising business, and lived in a nice apartment in
Manhattan. But he needs to drink, starting in the mornings. His apartment is
full of empty bottles of scotch. Eventually it gets so bad that his colleagues
at work do an intervention and insist that he checks into rehab. He decides to
go to a gay and lesbian "Proud" clinic in Minnesota, where he thinks
he will be more comfortable. Once he gets there, he finds the whole experience
difficult, and the time in the clinic is the most interesting part of his story
here, as he describes his different emotions and the interactions between the
clients. It is both funny and informative.
However, the problem for alcoholism
memoirs is that addiction is boring and even disgusting. An addict is full of
self-deception and lies to everyone around. The world is full of temptations,
and for those who have heard the same old excuses and seen relapses again and
again, it is almost impossible to trust the addict's promises. So when
Burroughs gets back from the clinic and starts going to AA meetings, it is hard
not to read each paragraph without expecting him to fail. The surprise is that
he lasts so long.
This may be an extremely
unsympathetic attitude towards addicts, and I don't mean to make light of their
struggle. But after one has read a few addiction memoirs, they have to work to
keep one's attention, and Burroughs' memoir strains one's patience. His most
important emotional connection is with his former boyfriend who he calls Pigface,
who now has AIDS, and as he reflects on the previous years, he sees the
problems with his relationship and how much he still feels for Pigface. His
other relationships are shallow and it is hard to care about their future, and
Burroughs actually spends very little time with Pigface.
Ultimately the book closes with
Burroughs back on the straight and narrow attending AA meetings again. It's
not clear how he gets there, or whether he has the resources to stay there.
Given the difficulty of his life so far, readers will of course hope that he is
remaining sober, but they may wonder why he felt the need to share the details
of his days of being a drunk.
of Running with Scissors
of Caroline Knapp's Drinking
of Ann Marlow's how to stop time
of Elizabeth Wurtzel's More, Now, Again
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.