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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Think I've Become Jaded

I read two memoirs this week. One was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and the other was Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

I hear they are making Running with Scissors into a movie now. Or it's already been made into one. Or something to that effect. I'm not sure how they're going to do that, mostly because nothing really happened in the book that was coherent enough to make a movie out of, but okay, Hollywood, maybe you're desperate.

Running with Scissors was not the worst book I've ever read. It wasn't great, either, though, as I was falsely led to believe by hordes of missives filled with multiple exclamation points posted by devoted Amazon reviewers. Mostly, when I finished it, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of "meh." I was also sort of vaguely ticked off that I spent 8 whole dollars on it. But that's neither here nor there.

My main problem is that it wasn't funny. Many critics, if I am to believe the little blurbs covering the back of this paperback, found this book to be funny. "Wickedly, ridiculously funny," The Boston Herald explains to me. "It is as funny as it is twisted," proclaims GQ. "A hilarious and horrifying memoir," trumpets The Los Angeles Times.

I'm not sure we all read the same book. Maybe there was a mix-up at the book-making place and the wrong pages got stuffed into this cover.

At any rate, Running with Scissors tells us of the crazy childhood/teenage years of one Augusten Burroughs, who is saddled with a lunatic mother who falls in with an equally lunatic shrink and much supposed hilarity ensues. There's quite a lot of living in squalor (at one point, we are regaled with several paragraphs' worth of description of a small child shitting on the carpet while his teenage aunts look on and applaud - and they leave it there) and non-psychedelic freakouts as presented to us by Augusten's aforementioned lunatic mother.

Stuff happens. Augusten ends up having to live with the crazy shrink and his disgusting family, because Mommy is unable to cope with having a child between psychotic breaks and therefore must be left alone to write poetry and engage in lesbian encounters. An "obsessive compulsive neurotic" lives in a room upstairs. Augusten worries about his hair a lot. Turkey carcasses make their way from room to room for months on end, never managing to find a garbage can. Augusten gets an older, possibly insane boyfriend. The Christmas tree stays up til May. Augusten tells us he will die if he does not get the Tony Orlando and Dawn record he so desperately wants. The boyfriend runs away, never to be seen again. Augusten continues to worry about his hair. The shrink has them tie balloons to themselves and parade around the town streets, shouting about World Father Day, or some shit. Augusten worries about his hair some more.

Basically, a whole lot of nonsense/nothing happens. Unless you count the over-emphasis on Augusten's preoccupation with hair as "something" and I don't. I mean, hello, you're gay. We understand. Being gay and writing about how you obsessively wanted to be a hairdresser when you were young is a very clever and astute social commentary on the difficulties of growing up homosexual in America, what with all those people out there perpetuating silly homo-hairdresser stereotypes. So poignant.


I think that this book was supposed to strike a chord in the reader - namely one of equal parts admiration and disgust. Disgust for the ridiculous living conditions, bizarre antics of the raving mother, and all-around way Augusten got shafted as a kid. Admiration for the way he was able to overcome all obstacles and write several best-selling books anyway.

Unfortunately, I couldn't summon either. I mean, sure, the shrink's house was gross and, sure, it was lame the way the mother was loony and pawned Augusten off on the loony shrink that was - in a (sarcasm) shocking (/sarcasm) turn of events - actually abusing the mother, but...meh.

I still don't know where the funny went. Where's the funny? Where are my belly laughs and wide-eyed chuckles? I am bereft of chuckles over here, people. There are no chuckles to be had.

"The anecdotes can be so flippant, and so insanely funny (quite literally), that the effect is that of a William Burroughs situation comedy," says The New York Times.

"SHUT YOUR MOUTH," says Zombie to The New York Times. The only way this book should possibly be mentioned in the same sentence as William Burroughs is if we're saying, "Wow, this is absolutely nothing like William Burroughs, even if the author conveniently has the same last name," or perhaps, "I can't believe The New York Times reviewer was so retarded as to say this is what a situation comedy would be like if William Burroughs wrote it, mostly because William Burroughs would tell you to fuck off and then eat some drugs and go write something worthwhile."

So, I'm sorry, Augusten Burroughs, that you had a ridiculous childhood filled with various homosexual experiences and squalid living conditions, but if there were jokes in here, I couldn't find them. Next time, try writing about a monkey smoking a cigarette. That is some funny shit, and also, I hear that monkeys with cigarettes will get you laid.

Now, about The Glass Castle. Here is another memoir filled with squalid living conditions and triumph over adversity, with an author that managed to overcome her silly childhood and end up a best-selling writer and such. The Walls family also has crazy authority figures in it and a mother that's an arteeeeest.

The Glass Castle is written better than Running with Scissors, but I still wasn't touched by the triumph or reduced to tears at the horrifying situations Jeannette and her family suffered through.

This is why I think I've become jaded. I read about a family living in a shack filled with mold in the Appalachian Mountains, with no running water and oft-interrupted electricity and no food and varied molesting-type adults, and I am like, "Where's the bad part?" I confess I kept waiting for something truly terrible to happen to these people so I could summon up some sympathy - like space squids attacked and killed all of the family members except for the drunken father and perky memoirist, which was quickly followed by a nuclear war that left them scrambling to feed themselves while worrying about limbs falling off due to radiation poisoning - but nothing like that happened. Mostly, there was a lot of going hungry and not bathing and living in filth and the drunken father not getting a job and the mother consumed with artisitc free-spiritedness that left her unable to get a job because she had to paint pictures all day and the drunken father drinking away what little money did come into the house and blah blah blah blah blah.

It was all so very American. And sort of boring. But not as boring as Running with Scissors. I'm not sure that's really a rousing endorsement, but there you have it. It's the best I can do.

Also, it would probably make a good Lifetime movie, and this might make me like it more, but I can't be sure.

If anyone is interested in reading a memoir about squalid living conditions and triumph over adversity that is actually funny and touching and inspiring, please ignore these two books and pick up a copy of Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt instead.

THAT is a book worth reading.

But don't read the sequel, 'Tis, because it's not nearly as good and will make you sort of pissed off that you spent several whole dollars on it.

PS - It occurred to me, just now, while I was checking the back of the book again to make sure I had those review quotes right, that MAYBE the funny part of Running with Scissors is that Augusten spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about his hair - and wanting to become a hairdresser and worrying about his hair some more and doing other people's hair and hair hair hair hair shut up about the fucking hair already, dude - but his author photograph shows he is now completely bald. OH, IRONY! YOU SLAY ME THUSLY!

link | posted by Zombie at 5:50 PM |


Blogger Ralph Nadir commented at 4:51 AM~  

I was actually going to read Running With Scissors(the movie version of which is already out, and getting less than stellar reviews) but now, thanks to you, I think I won't bother.

You'll be happy to know, though, that Lisey's Story is King's best since Bag of Bones(at least so far, I'm only halfway through at this point).

Blogger Zombie commented at 10:04 AM~  

Yeah, I am reading that one right now and quite enjoying it. BOOL! THE END!

Got some Cormac McCarthy coming here pretty soon. That should be fun.

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