Thursday, March 29, 2007

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Funny and horrific at the same time. About 65% horrific/35% funny, I think. Quite a good read, but very uncomfortable at some points. It's a twist on all the "child-abuse memoir" books that seem to be everywhere at the moment i.e. Dave Pelzer's A child called it etc. Recommended, but proceed with caution.

In Borders and Books etc, the staff sometimes write little reviews of recommended books and stick them next to the books stacked up. I really like reading these reviews because they are hand-written and slightly messy, like they've been written by real people. You know, a fellow book-lover, not just a critic trying to sound as clever as possible.

Anyway, this book had a little review next to it and it said something like "this book is so funny that I couldn't stop myself laughing out loud on the bus and snorting like a fool..."

It's also being made into a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Joseph Fiennes and Annette Benning. So I had quite high expectations when I started reading.

*spoilers ahead*

Augusten Burroughs is 13 years old. His father is a distant alcoholic professor and his mother is a mentally ill aspiring poet. She starts to see a therapist, Dr Finch who quickly has an enormous influence on her and Augusten.

After his parents divorce, Augusten starts to spend more and more time with Dr Finch and his dysfunctional family. Until finally, his mother "gives" him to Dr Finch and he is legally adopted into the Finch family.

Dr Finch is completely nuts. He is raising his children to be "emotionally mature" and believes that at 13, people are adults. What this actually means is that the family live in squalor, have inappropriate relationships and just do whatever the hell they want.

This was funny at times, eg when they decide to cut holes in the roof and examine each other's poo. But not so funny when 13 year old Augusten starts a relationship with Neil Bookman, one of Dr Finch's other adopted children. Neil Bookman is 33 years old to Augusten's 13 - and this was one of the ickiest parts of the book. I didn't enjoy reading detailed descriptions of sex between a child and an adult; what was more disturbing is the acceptance of it by Augusten's "parents". His mother is happy about it , and Dr Finch also "approves".

Although the book is written in a light-hearted, anecdotal style, some parts of it are really sad. Augusten is desperate for attention. He loves and hates Neil Bookman in equal measure, threatening to report him to the police but also grateful for the fact someone, anyone cares about him.

Augusten's mother is not so much a bad mother, just very ill. She needs proper psychiatric help, not a charlatan like Dr Finch and his freakshow family.

This book made me think that children need limits, and parents not setting those limits is in itself a kind of abuse. Augusten himself asks - if he is so free to do whatever he wants, why does he feel so trapped?

I'm curious to see how the child abuse is depicted in the movie. The book is very candid, but I wonder how Hollywood will deal with it as the child/adult relationships are very complicated.

No comments: