‘Humor can make all things tolerable’, they say and author Augusten Burroughs has gone on to prove it in his memoir ‘Running with scissors.’ It is a ‘wickedly humorous’ account of Burroughs’ survival of his unusual and pitiful childhood.
Burroughs has written about serious issues like alcoholism, drugs, forced sex, abuse and his sorrowful upbringing. But the best part is, he has not inflicted these issues directly and forcefully onto the readers. Just when the reader begins to feel sorry for the way things are, there comes and unexpected, extremely wicked humor, which lightens the gravity of the situation and puts the reader at ease. All he can do is, roll with laughter, even when he wanted to cry.
This sudden humor amidst the most horrifying and painful situation, makes the book hilarious and easy to digest.
For instance, when his mother left him at her therapist’s place, saying that he would have to stay there and fend for himself, as they were both hiding from Burroughs’ father, is very sad indeed. Burroughs’ is quite expectedly shocked and describes many bizarre details about the place and just when the reader starts feeling the way he should have been feeling, Burroughs drops in with what should be the last thing the reader expected to hear— He thinks to himself “where will I practice my Barry Manilow lip-syncing?” (Pg 53). One again the reader is left in fits of laughter.
Then again, Burroughs describes an incident of forced sex when he was just 13 years old with a 33-year old man. It is really heartbreaking for the reader to learn what the child went through, at such a young age, and that he faced such harsh realities of life then.
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But Burroughs, ready with another dose. In the midst of the horrifying experience he thinks to
himself, “he smells funny. It’s almost like a food, like you could eat the smell. Well, I guess I am eating the smell. But it’s not like any food I’ve had before. Kind of a cheese maybe?” (Pg 111).
Also in one place he speaks about his father, with whom he had an estranged relation. He says, “my father was otherwise occupied in his role of highly functional alcoholic professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts” (Pg12-13).
In this statement, Burroughs not only brings to light that his father was an alcoholic, evidently a matter of concern, but also indicates that he was absent, both literally and emotionally. Instead of calling for sympathy and attention for his father’s state, he jokes about it, again making things easy to digest for the reader.
“He had psoriasis that covered his entire body and gave him the appearance of a dried mackerel that could stand upright and wear tweed. And he had the loving, affectionate and outgoing personality of petrified wood”, he says. (Pg 13).
Augustus Burroughs has used his dry, magical thinking to transform tragedy into humor. Although, his memoir compels the reader to laugh, even at the most horrifying things, it gives out the message of the social afflictions present in the society, clearly. The reader knows full well that what Burroughs as a child went through is not something to be laughed at and joke about. But, Burroughs allows the reader to enjoy what he experienced and that’s to his credit.
1. Running with scissors by Augustus Burroughs