Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Driving With Scissors

Raise your hand if you have a painfully long commute to work every day.  And by painful I mean any one-way trip that exceeds the 30 minute mark and leaves you feeling stiff, anxious, and disgruntled with the world.  What an ideal way to start your work day, right?  Negative.  It can be downright torturous.  I know this feeling all too well having chosen to reside a million miles away from my workplace.  However, I have recently discovered the perfect cure for this malady: AUDIO BOOKS! 

I'll be honest.  I used to cringe at the thought of being trapped in my car with only the sound of a monotonous voice jabbering away the plot of a very, very long story - "Wah wah wah, wuh wah wuh wah." Uh, no thanks.  I'm a big music lover and I used to think the only sane way to get through a dreadful commute was to BLAST my way to my destination with some solid tunes (preferably classic rock gems like The Cars, Heart, and Zeppelin) and when traffic got really tense I could always zen out with a little Yanni (don't judge).  What I didn't know was that the perfect audio book could actually produce the same effect as listening to the heart thumping Barracuda.  And this my friends, is where I stumbled upon the in-your-face memoir, Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.     

Now let's see ... how could we best sum up Augusten's childhood?  A warm and fuzzy recollection of growing up with a loving and doting family?  No.  Enduring the typical growing pains of a young boy punctuated with periods of teenage dilemmas like failing an algebra test and getting caught with a pack of cigarettes?  Not quite.  Being abandoned as an infant only to be discovered by a pack of wolves who raise him to hunt for food and howl at the moon?  If only he'd been that lucky.  No.  I think the best way to describe Augusten's early life is complete and total IN.SAN.I.TY!  And not just a little bit of insanity but layers upon layers of it.  There was not a single minute of his entire childhood that could be considered "normal."  He was never given the chance to experience normal.  

Augusten grew up with an emotionally unstable mother and an absent father.  His mother's whack-a-doodle lifestyle caused Augusten to find himself living with and being raised by her lunatic psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.  While his mother takes a slow nose-dive into the depths of mental illness, Augusten is stuck in the whirlwind of the Finch family and the comings and goings of Dr. Finch's numerous mental patients.  On top of all of this, Augusten is trying to come to terms with his homosexuality but unfortunately receives disturbing and sometimes abusive lessons in love from a nasty little character named Neal Bookman.  Ew.  Despite his horrifying and often illegal home environment, Augusten somehow makes it through and eventually discovers what he was meant to do - write.

And boy oh boy is he a fabulous writer!  No doubt about it - Augusten's life story is blow-your-hair-back kind of stuff.  But the way he retells the events with a dry wit and a complete level of self-awareness made me appreciate his journey and had me rooting for him throughout the story.  I can see where many readers would be turned off or perhaps downright offended by the scenes of Augusten's life.  Some may even question the truthfulness of his memoir.  I admit I even asked myself once or twice, "Did he make this up?"  But now I think, "Dang - you have to be pretty courageous to share a memoir like this."  It was an added bonus that I listened to the audio version.  I felt I was able to connect with his story much more having heard it retold in his own voice.  What would have  become of Augusten Burroughs had he lived that warm and fuzzy "normal" childhood?  I'm not so sure but I'm grateful for his cracked upbringing because it made one hell of a good story.

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts?  Have you also found the joy of audio books?  Do share!