Surely you’ve seen it on a cheap bumper sticker. “It’s only funny until someone loses an eye. Then it’s hilarious!”
Or how about the concept of schadenfreude – getting enjoyment out of watching others suffer? It’s no secret that humor and terror are intimately intertwined, whether it’s a toddler convulsing with glee as you pretend to smack yourself in the face, a lunchroom applauding a dropped tray, or a comedian rehashing his romantic mishaps. Today I review a book that tries to make some pretty scary childhood experiences into humorous memoir – and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s successful. Read on, read on!
Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
With such a childhood, I can easily imagine how Augusten Burroughs grew up to be a noted Gen X writer. It’s not just that he lived through unorthodox and unhealthy situations. It’s the sheer madness of the way in which Burroughs was treated, the absurdity, the bizzaritude. What else could he be?
People have called this book all flavors of “funny,” from “uproariously” to “morbidly,” but I think it really tends more towards horrifying. Though he packs an acerbic wit, Burroughs describes situations that are simply too appalling for me to see them as humorous. Psychologically compromised mother being unethically drugged up by a rogue “doctor” until she’s eating bits of the ceiling and accusing her young, neglected son of selfishness? Children of twelve or thirteen left on their own to have sex with abusive adults, wade through the filth of a more-than-decrepit home, and never attend school? I can’t tell Mr. Burroughs how to process and interpret his own life, but to me, these are not laughing matters.
Burroughs is a fine writer, and this book was definitely engaging. It wasn’t much trouble for me to plow through it, but it left me feeling slightly unwell, like I’d eaten overripe fruit. For humorous memoir, I’ll stick with David Sedaris, thanks very much.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.