Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let's not call it a memoir...

I'm going to throw out there my perfectly honest gut assessment: this book is funny, disturbing, disgusting, and literally unbelievable. I do imagine that Burroughs had a dysfunctional childhood, and that some of the things that happened to and around him probably left deep emotional scars. I don't, however, believe for a second that every word of this book is truth. It rings of over-embellishment - there's just too much crazy to be real. If you're fascinated by crazy the way I am, though, you just might be highly entertained.

I'm a closet psychology student. I seriously considered a double major in English and psychology when I was in college until my advisor pointed out that I was also in the School of Education trying to get my teaching license, and if I did all three I'd probably be there for five or more years. So I dropped psych, but I still loved it. I'm utterly fascinated by mental illness, even my own minor anxieties and obssessions. And this book...well, let's say I got my fill of psychological studies for a while.

The sorta memoir, sorta novel (the author and his publisher have agreed, in response to a lawsuit from the family represented by the Finches in the book, to call it a "book" and not a "memoir" any more), focuses on Augusten Burroughs' life growing up in Massachusetts. His mother is completely insane at times - we're talking takes baths in broken glass crazy - and completely self-obssessed the rest of the time (focusing solely on writing poetry and exploring her sexuality instead of taking any responsibility for her son). His parents divorce early in his life, and his father essentially never talks to him again. His mother sends him off to live with her psychiatrist's family, which is borderline psychotic and unquestionably unhealthy and disgusting. And riotous (and disturbing) adventures ensue.

The book is not for the faint of heart. There are several explicit descriptions of his first sexual experiences with a man 20 years his elder, not to mention the nasty things he describes his adopted family doing (such as drying the patriarch's bowel movements in the sun and studying them as messages from God). Despite the insanity and grossness, the book manages to be bitterly hilarious at the same time. I am really glad that I didn't have to live through anything even approximating this book, and I'm sorry that anyone had a childhood that led them to write like this, but I was definitely held captive by the humor and the crazy.

1 comment:

  1. nice review. thanks.

    i gotta admit, i've given this one a miss this far because it didn't seem interesting. you made it seem interesting. but... maybe not for me. hmm. i'll carry on thinking.

    now off to the wikipedia page to read about the memoir/book scandal.