You know, memoir is not court stenography. Memoir is not a video on YouTube. Memoir has a narrative. Memoirs, a good memoir, is a person’s experience, their memory, and how that experience mattered to them, emotionally and psychologically.
I’ve always liked memoirs, though I didn’t always know that I was watching a memoir. A Christmas Story is a fairy tale memoir. Little Big Man was a fake memoir. Most of the brilliant writing of David Sedaris is in the form of memoirs. Oprah yelled at James Frey for making stuff up in his memoir A Million Little Pieces. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning Augusten Burroughs says that his stories are true.
It should come as no surprise that the family of the insane psychiatrist depicted in Running With Scissors would sue over what they call exaggerations. These exaggerations were enough for Burroughs to settle with the family and change the word ‘memoir’ to ‘book’ in the author’s note in Running With Scissors.
Running with Scissors is the story of a child with an insane mother who is made more insane by seeing what could be the world’s worst psychiatrist. His father leaves the mad wife and abandons the equally baffling son who has such habits as boiling his allowance and polishing it with Brasso.
There is an implication here that if only the Father had been a better man everything would have been fine. I suppose he could have had his wife committed to a mental hospital, the story starts out in the good old days when there were State Hospitals. Then the father could have shipped the son off to a Military Academy, where the weird child would have all kinds of shinny things to polish. But the clearly happy in his life as the survivor of a terrible childhood Burroughs would not have liked that.
The mad psychiatrist keeps giving the mother more drugs to take and keeps making her even more insane. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last days of Elvis and Hitler and how much better the world of Mental Health would be if Doctors had nothing to do with it. The mad psychiatrist, who is clearly mad in Running With Scissors, still has enough pull to get the Mother committed once in a while and still sees patients, though the handful of his patients that we see are all the worse for having met the Good Doctor.
I have to admit that I felt a certain recognition with the Good Doctor, his massive house filled with tons of junk and the kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. Even the odds and ends in the yard ring a familiar bell with my own white trash traditions. The myth, I have always thought, is the perfectly clean house we see in almost all Tv Shows. I was always better able to relate to the family on The Rosanne Show, though even their house was always a bit too clean.
For me the most interesting bit about Running With Scissor is not the story of the whiner Augusten Burroughs and how tough he had it, but that his story can’t be all that different from a few million others. Augesten Burroughs had the nerve to sit down and write it out. We are all the stars of our own dramas, and we can’t stand the idea that we are just bit players to the rest of the world. So I don’t see anything wrong with Augisten Burroughs exaggerating a bit about this odd period of his life.
Running With Scissors was an odd movie with all kinds of odd things happening. Drugs, homosexuality, wanton destruction, abandonment, attempted suicides and a ton of psychobabble fill the film from being to end. And yet our hero Augusten seems pretty happy about it all. As the film ends he is running away to New York, where we are told he writes a book. . .