Running with Scissors (memoir)

Running with Scissors (memoir)
Running with Scissors  
Author(s) Augusten Burroughs
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Memoir
Publisher Picador
Publication date Reprint edition (June 2003)
Pages 302
ISBN ISBN 0-312-42227-X
OCLC Number 48515847
Preceded by Sellevision
Followed by Dry

Running with Scissors is a 2002 memoir by American writer Augusten Burroughs. The book tells the story of Burroughs's bizarre childhood life after his mother, who had an obsession with Anne Sexton, sent him to live with her psychiatrist.[1] Running with Scissors spent eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.[2]


Plot summary

Running with Scissors covers the period of Burroughs's adolescent years, beginning at age 12 after a brief overview of his life as a child. Burroughs spends his early childhood in a clean and orderly home, obsessing over his clothes, hair, accessories, and having great potential, with his parents constantly fighting in the background.

When his parents separate and his mother begins to second-guess her sexuality, Burroughs is sent to live with his mother's psychiatrist, Dr. Finch. The doctor lives in a rundown Victorian house located in Northampton, Massachusetts. He lives with his wife as well as his biological and adopted children and some of his own patients, where rules are practically nonexistent and children of all ages do whatever they please, such as having sex, smoking cigarettes and cannabis, and rebelling against authority figures. For example, Dr. Finch feels that, at age 13, children should be in charge of their own lives. However, the dysfunctional issues that occur in the Finch family are outdone by the psychotic episodes frequently experienced by Burroughs's mother.

The Finch house is a parallel universe to the home he came from. It is filthy, with cockroaches roaming around the uncleaned dishes, Christmas trees left up until May, stairs that Burroughs is afraid to walk up because he thinks that they will collapse under him, and nothing off limits. Eventually, Dr. Finch comes to believe that God is communicating to him through his fecal matter. When Hope, Dr. Finch's oldest daughter, believes her cat is dying, she keeps it in a laundry box for four days until it dies.

Burroughs's mother is shown as emotionally drained, excessive, self-centered, and ultimately it seems as she is incapable of being a parent. She has a lesbian relationship with a local minister's wife, which is revealed to a young Burroughs when he accidentally walks in on them while he skips school. When this relationship ends, Burroughs's mother starts another with a teenage and affluent African-American woman. This relationship is tumultuous and unstable and, at one point, they have a mental patient named Cesar live at their house. He attempts to rape Burroughs while he's sleeping, but is unsuccessful (when this patient goes to live with the Finches later in the book, he pays one of the Finches' daughters for oral sex and then is forced from the home). His mother's biggest psychotic episode happens when she and Dorothy (her partner) move everything out of their house, and attack Burroughs when he tries to intervene. This later ends with a "road trip" and events leading to Burroughs's mother being restrained on a bed.

Burroughs tells Dr. Finch's adopted 33-year-old son, Neil Bookman, that he is gay. From the age of 13 to 15, Burroughs has an intense and open sexual relationship with Bookman, which begins when Bookman forces the young boy to perform oral sex on him. Neither his mother nor any member of the Finch family is bothered by their relationship. Burroughs begins to enjoy exacting power over Bookman by threatening to charge him with statutory rape. Bookman is besotted with the young boy, even though Burroughs has problems with their relationship (going in phases of needing the affection of Bookman to wanting to humiliate or get away from him) which only infatuates Bookman more. Bookman eventually leaves Northampton and is never heard from again by Burroughs or the Finches, even after they try everything in their power to find him.

Burroughs forms a close relationship with Dr. Finch's daughter, Natalie, who is one year older than him, even though at the beginning of this book, he dislikes her. They do everything from finding jobs to running under a waterfall. They finally leave the Finch household together.

At the end of the book, when Burroughs is living in his own apartment with Natalie, he is asked to choose between his mother and Dr. Finch when she accuses the doctor of raping her. The relationship between his mother and the doctor had been turbulent ever since a scene at a motel, where Dr. Finch's abnormal therapy methods reached a point at which they could possibly be interpreted as sexual assault. He still considers Dr. Finch's family and his mother to be his family, and he cannot bring himself to choose sides, although, he is fairly certain that Dr. Finch did rape his mother. The book ends with Burroughs leaving Massachusetts and moving to New York City.


Augusten Burroughs 
The main character, son of Deirdre and Norman, was sent to live with his psychotic mother's psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, and his family at the age of 13 and is eventually adopted by the Finch family. He is a slight obsessive compulsive. It is at the Finch house where he enters a relationship with Neil, trying to live with the insane and dirty living conditions of the Finches while coping with his mother's mental condition and his father's lack of love and care for him.
Deirdre Burroughs 
Deirdre is the mother of Augusten and was married to Norman until the divorce. She is a mentally unstable poet, who, after her divorce, engages in a relationship with another married woman. She allows Augusten to pretend to attempt suicide so he can be released from school, is in a relationship with a teenage girl, and sees her psychiatrist at least once a day.
Dr. Finch 
The psychiatrist of Deirdre, father of Natalie and Hope, and "husband" of Agnes Finch. Although Agnes and Dr. Finch are technically married, Dr. Finch has multiple other relationships with various women, all of whom he calls his wife, saying that Agnes is only his "legal" wife and doesn't understand him. Dr. Finch takes Augusten in, and later legally adopts him, after Deirdre decides she cannot handle the emotional stress of mothering Augusten. Dr. Finch's psychiatric ways are unconventional and different; he makes his patients worse, unknowingly, instead of curing them, giving them unmarked medicines, using techniques that upset them, and overall encouraging their behavior.
Neil Bookman 
The adopted son of Dr. Finch. Soon after Burroughs moves in with the Finches, Neil, who was 33, forms a sexual relationship with Burroughs, who was only 13. He later becomes very obsessive and protective of Burroughs, who rarely returns the same feelings, but still maintains a relationship with him. His obsessiveness turns to infatuation and he constantly tells Burroughs he would die if Burroughs left him.
Natalie Finch 
The youngest daughter of Dr. Finch and Agnes who is wild, unruly, and promiscuous as seen throughout the book, giving her first hand job at the age of 11. She is only one year older than Burroughs, who she eventually becomes great friends with.
Norman Burroughs 
The abusive husband of Deirdre and the alcoholic father of Augusten. His abusive, oppressive relationship with Deirdre is one of a the main causes of her instability and Augusten's hard life. When Augusten later tries to reach out to him, his phone calls are ignored, leading to a further case of abandonment.
Agnes Finch 
Mother of the Finch children and wife of Dr. Finch. Her role in the family is small, and she serves as more of a maid or housekeeper than anything else as no one pays her any respect and rarely listens to her, telling her constantly to "shut up".
Hope Finch 
The older sister to Natalie. She works as a receptionist in Dr. Finch's office and is the first person in the Finch family to befriend Burroughs.
The first female lover of Deirdre Burroughs. She is a minister's wife with children, who keeps her relationship with Deirdre a secret. However, the relationship reaches its demise when Fern refuses to leave her family.
A teenage, African-American former patient of Dr. Finch who becomes Dierdre's second lover. Dorothy, who was also mentally unstable, encouraged Dierdre's insane behavior, finding it exciting. She does everything from setting money on fire to putting broken glass in the bathtub.

Film adaptation

The film adaptation of Running with Scissors, released in 2006, stars Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Cross as Burroughs. The plot of the film is focused on the relationship between the mother and the son.[3]

Legal case

In 2005, the family of Dr. Rodolph H. Turcotte (1919–2000), of Massachusetts filed suit against Burroughs and his publisher, alleging defamation of character and invasion of privacy. They stated that they were the basis for the Finch family portrayed in the book but that Burroughs had fabricated or exaggerated various descriptions of their activities.[4][5]

It's still a memoir, it's marketed as a memoir, they've agreed one hundred percent that it is a memoir.

—Augusten Burroughs on the Running With Scissors settlement[6]

The case was later settled with Sony Pictures Entertainment in October 2006, prior to the release of the film adaptation.[7] Burroughs and his publisher, St. Martin's Press, settled with the Turcotte family in August 2007. The Turcottes were reportedly seeking damages of $2 million for invasion of privacy, defamation, and emotional distress; the Turcottes alleged Running with Scissors was largely fictional and written in a sensational manner. Burroughs defended his work as "entirely accurate", but agreed to call the work a "book" (instead of "memoirs") in the author's note, to alter the acknowledgments page in future editions to recognize the Turcotte family's conflicting memories of described events, and express regret for "any unintentional harm" to the Turcotte family.[8] Burroughs felt vindicated by the settlement. "I'm not at all sorry that I wrote [the book]. And you know, the suit settled—it settled in my favor. I didn't change a word of the memoir, not one word of it. It's still a memoir, it's marketed as a memoir, they've agreed one hundred percent that it is a memoir."[6]

Future printings of Running with Scissors will contain modified language in the Author's Note and Acknowledgments pages. Where the Acknowledgments page had read: "Additionally, I would like to thank each and every member of a certain Massachusetts family for taking me into their home and accepting me as one of their own," the following was substituted: "Additionally, I would like to thank the real-life members of the family portrayed in this book for taking me into their home and accepting me as one of their own. I recognize that their memories of the events described in this book are different than my own. They are each fine, decent, and hard-working people. The book was not intended to hurt the family. Both my publisher and I regret any unintentional harm resulting from the publishing and marketing of Running with Scissors."

In addition, on the Author's Note page—but, as the family agreed, nowhere else—the word "book" replaced the word "memoir." The work is still described as a memoir on the cover, title page and elsewhere.[9]

See also


External links

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