Burroughs, Augusten 1965-
BURROUGHS, Augusten 1965-
PERSONAL: Original name, Christopher Robison; name legally changed, c. 1983; born 1965, in Pittsburg, PA; son of John (a professor) and Margaret Robison; partner of Dennis Pilsits (a graphic designer).
CAREER: Writer. Radio commentator, National Public Radio, 2003—. Previously worked as a copywriter, dog trainer, store clerk, waiter, and store detective.
Sellevision, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 2000.
Running with Scissors: A Memoir, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Dry: A Memoir, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Details.
ADAPTATIONS: Running with Scissors was adapted for audio, read by the author, Audio Renaissance, 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Magical Thinking, a collection of true stories.
SIDELIGHTS: Augusten Burroughs's first book is the campy novel Sellevision, set in the world of home-shopping networks. In the story, on-air personality Max exposes himself while promoting toys, is fired, and finds a new career in adult pornography. The prim and proper Peggy Jean Smythe, who pushes Princess Di memorabilia, takes fan criticism to heart and finds refuge in drugs and drinking, oblivious to the fact that her husband is seducing the girl next door. When Peggy goes into rehab, two replacements, one of whom is the executive producer's mistress, are stalked via e-mail. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "this kaleidoscope of gleefully salacious intrigue aims to titillate and amuse in a purposefully over-the-top way."
Booklist's James Klise concluded that "the material sparkles, just like the Diamonelle earrings on the shopping channels."
Based on his childhood diaries, Burroughs's Running with Scissors: A Memoir was twenty years in the writing and a lifetime in the making. Although Burroughs has changed the names of his characters, he avows that this is his life story, beginning when he was an adolescent in the 1970s. Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby wrote that Burroughs "wins the year's Best Scene Opener award with this dandy: 'We were young. We were bored. And the old electroshock therapy machine was just under the stairs in a box next to the Hoover.'"
Burroughs describes his father as an emotionally distant and alcoholic professor and his mother as a manic depressive confessional poet. After they split, his mother is constantly in therapy with Rodolph Harvey Turcotte (Dr. Finch in the book). Finch's household includes his hunchback wife, Agnes, their six children, and an assortment of live-in patients, all of whom share a filthy pink Victorian mansion in Northampton, Massachusetts. Finch's unorthodox practice includes maintaining a "masturbatorium" in his office and reading the future in his patients' feces. Burroughs's mother never improves under Finch, and after coming out as a lesbian and moving in with her teenaged lover, she signs her son over to the psychiatrist, who accepts guardianship. Burroughs, like the Finch children, receives no adult guidance. He befriends Hope and Natalie Finch, with whom he shares substance abuse and delinquency. A Kirkus Review contributor noted that Burroughs "strongly delineates the tangled, perverse bonds among these high-watt eccentrics and his childhood self, aspiring to a grotesque comic merger of John Waters and David Sedaris."
With the help of Finch, Burroughs fakes a suicide attempt to get out of school. He is seduced by Neil Bookman, a man in his thirties and the "adopted son" of Finch, who violently makes Burroughs his own, with Finch's approval. Thomas Haley wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that "this association overshadows most other events in Burroughs's book, not only because it is potentially the most harmful, but because it so clearly exemplifies Augusten's perpetual victimization by those older and supposedly more mature than him." Haley concluded by saying that Burroughs's memoir "is too brutal and disturbing, despite the frequent laughs, to be read as an inspirational or life-affirming memoir. But Running with Scissors is nonetheless a stirring and stunning testament to a boy's strength in an environment of unfathomable heartache and dysfunction."
Scott Tobias wrote for the Onion A.V. Club online that "the sole comfort of reading this profoundly disturbing memoir, outside of Burroughs's brave comic perspective, lies in knowing that he lived to write it." Burroughs did survive, however. He distanced himself from his mother, came out as being gay, left Finch at seventeen, earned his GED, and became a copywriter. His abuse of alcohol and drugs led him into rehab at age thirty. His only connection to his own family was his older brother, John, who had not been subject to the life Burroughs experienced in the Finch household.
Virginia Heffernan, who reviewed the memoir in the New York Times Book Review, said that it "promotes visceral responses (of laughter, wincing, retching) on nearly every page" and "contains the kind of scenes that are often called harrowing but which are also plainly funny and rich with child's-eye details of adults who have gone off the rails." Galina Espinoza noted in a People review that many of the characters in Burroughs's life acknowledge the truth of parts of the memoir but deny others. His father declined to comment. His parents were both in their late sixties when the book was published, and his mother was confined to a wheelchair after a stroke in 1989. Turcotte lost his medical license in 1986 and died in 2000.
Lambda Book Report contributor Seth J. Bookey wrote that Running with Scissors "does a beautiful job of reflecting on the bizarre without fetishizing or sentimentalizing it, or being victimized by it. Distance, via time, allows Burroughs to laugh at it all, but underneath all the kitsch (and filth), this memoir perfectly captures how an adult generation abdicated all authority. The only thing more fascinating than Augusten's neglect going unnoticed by anyone who could have helped is that he had the self-determination not to get stuck in the quicksand of his elders." A sequel to the book, Dry, was published in 2003.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Burroughs, Augusten, Running with Scissors: A Memoir, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, August, 2000, James Klise, review of Sellevision, p. 2109.
Entertainment Weekly, June 28, 2002, Karen Valby, review of Running with Scissors: A Memoir, p. 136.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2000, review of Sellevision, pp. 977-978; May 15, 2002, review of Running with Scissors, p. 714; April 15, 2003, review of Dry: A Memoir, p. 581.
Lambda Book Report, September, 2002, Seth J. Bookey, review of Running with Scissors, p. 14.
Library Journal, June 1, 2002, Nancy R. Ives, review of Running with Scissors, p. 162.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 22, 2002, Merle Rubin, review of Running with Scissors, p. E3.
New York Times, June 20, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of Running with Scissors, p. B9.
New York Times Book Review, July 14, 2002, Virginia Heffernan, review of Running with Scissors, p. 7.
People, September 23, 2002, Galina Espinoza, review of Running with Scissors, p. 229.
Publishers Weekly, July 31, 2000, review of Sellevision, p. 69; June 3, 2002, review of Running with Scissors, p. 77; April 21, 2003, review of Dry, p. 48.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis), August 11, 2002, Thomas Haley, review of Running with Scissors.
Augusten Burroughs Home Page,http://www.augusten.com (March 19, 2003).
BookSense.com,http://www.booksense.com/ (December 3, 2002), interview with Burroughs.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ December 3, 2002), review of Running with Scissors.
Onion A.V. Club,http://www.theonionavclub.com/ (August 21, 2002), Scott Tobias, review of Running with Scissors.*