Author: Augusten Burroughs, USA

Sources: Augusten Burroughs Website: http://augusten.com/

Child Abuse-The Hidden Bruises: http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/chldabus.htm

Books Reviewed: Running With Scissors, Dry, and Magical Thinking

Augusten Burroughs specializes memoir, his work is a surprising blend of South Park featuring Stephen King. I found Augusten’s work to be visceral, painful, humorous and painfully honest.

I am also working on a memoir and I can say, from experience, that of all the writing I have done memoir is the toughest. A good memoir puts your vulnerabilities, your deepest secrets, all things you wished to say but never did on paper for the world to see; and once published you can never take those words back. When writing my memoir, at first I felt like a character in one of my books. I stood apart from really feeling or owning my experiences. It was much easier to be detached than to really relive what I had buried in the past. Then I took a class on writing memoir with an accomplished author. My teacher was very intelligent, a thoughtful writer with a lot of flair. She encouraged me to explore, and delve into the scenes in my book. To relive each moment from a different sense, to put words to intuition. As my book flourished so did my sense of “This is me!”. Laugh* In a sense, writing memoir can be a sort of therapy…and sometimes a mirror that sees into the all the walls you have put up.

Augusten’s works are revealing, and embody all the aspects of a well-written memoir. Often I felt as if I was standing beside Augusten, walking through the streets of memory, as I read his books. In Running With Scissors when Augusten recalls the abuse, neglect, and lack of support he survived as a child I wanted to scream—to fight for him. He takes you in a very personal way, through some of the darkest moments in his life and you cannot help but to be moved, but in the same way you don’t want to get too close.

Augusten can be critical, sarcastic and at times distant. In Dry Augusten recalls his alcoholism, recovery and self-destructiveness. The mystery of Augusten is that his anger is directed outward—especially in Magical Thinking do you get the brunt of a rather cutting, often caustic sense of humor. Augusten does not elaborate on coping with a traumatic childhood, and there is no sense of resolution. Perhaps there are subtle clues such as Augusten’s struggle to form close relationships, and a past tendency for sexual encounters with men that he had not known for very long. Or how uncomfortable Augusten feels around children, despite being rather sensitive towards others. Humor, clearly is Augusten’s release, there are so many memorable stories but my favorite is in Magical Thinking when the little girl goes on an Easter egg hunt, excitedly picks up a bag she thought was candy to see a lump of dog turd inside. Humor, and determination are common themes in all three books. Even at his lowest point, these attributes provide strength and perhaps, a way to triumph.

Another aspect that Augusten’s works brought forth in me is the impact of trauma and abuse on a child. Reading the news or hearing horrific stories, it may be easy to judge abuse by the severity or physical blows. However, for a child the pain of abuse and the pain on the psyche cannot be separated. While an outsider may judge abuse based on bruises or neglect, may think that yelling at a child is not as bad as hitting, in a child’s reality the actual abuse is compounded by trauma and psychological damage. Often the full measure of abuse is repressed or separated, in which case as an adult the abuse is experienced all over again. If there is no resolution, abusive and dysfunctional patterns may continue –sometimes to the next generation

.

I also thought it was interesting that in Running With Scissors Augusten does not actually say that he was raped as a child, I was often left with the impression that the dysfunction and insanity of his youth was normal. One example of this is the wife of the psychiatrist sitting in the living room, eating handfuls of dog food from a bag. She convinces everybody that the dog food tastes good, and they ought to try some before judging her for eating it. While Augusten is initially skeptical, he does try a kibble of dog food and later agrees that it does taste good, and starts eating more of it. In a very real way, the crazy, the dysfunctional has become “normal”.

The process of anger, of feeling wronged becomes more fully developed in Dry and Magical Thinking. I was actually appalled, to the point of wanting to throw up, that readers would ask Augusten if he had ever seen or heard from Bookman (the pedophile). Facing your abuser in a memoir takes a tremendous amount of courage. I cannot imagine what it would be like to see this person face to face, as an adult. I can honestly say that the face of an abuser is not easily erased from your mind—nor from the normal life you strive for after surviving abuse or trauma. Victims often see the abuser in their minds, their nightmares, and other aspects of their life—the healing process is a lot like recovering from severe burns in the most vulnerable parts of who you are.

Anger is also a part of  healing. For abuse victims it’s a lot easier to be angry at yourself, or people perceived to be weaker than to directly confront the abuser through feelings or memories. Anger towards the self becomes justified by the manipulation of the abuser. Often abuse victims will blame themselves for letting the abuse happen because they feel weak, vulnerable, or were seeking something (love, support, attention, etc.) that was only met by abuse or violence. As an abuse victim, healing involves taking back your power. There are many aspects of taking back your power but at its core that involves being comfortable in who you are (learning to live with the abuse in a way that does not continue the pattern of dysfunction or violence). Getting to that point is going through a dark maze of emotion and pain and anger. For a time the victim may turn to addiction, resist intimacy or use defenses to shield themselves.  I can imagine that writing a memoir that is published all over the world will cause you to let down your shields, or at least be open to having them knocked down.! For this, I applaud Augusten.

I highly recommend the writing of Augusten Burroughs, though it is not for the faint of heart. The writing of Augusten, overall, is very unique and insightful.

Review by “EJ” ⓒ 2007

The heart of a child
Is in your hands now
So let’s see you smile
’cause I’m not impressed with your loneliness
And it’s been a while
Since you forgave all your changes made

Of a Broken Heart”, Zwan

“Child abuse is reported on an average of every 10 seconds and three children die every day as a result of such abuse. ” — Tennyson Center for Children (www.childabuse.org)

Advertisements