Running With Scissors Summary

Augusten Burroughs

Running With Scissors

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Running With Scissors Summary

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Running with Scissors is a memoir written in the year of 2002 by Augusten Burroughs, an American writer. It is a coming-of-age story that covers the period of Burroughs’ adolescent life, starting at age 12 after a brief glimpse of his earlier childhood. The story focuses primarily on what happens when his mother, after experiencing a number of crises in her life, sends him away to live with her psychiatrist. The memoir Running with Scissors remained on the New York Times bestseller list for eight weeks.

Burroughs’ early childhood life is spent in a clean and orderly home. He worries about his clothes and hair, among other normal childhood concerns. His parents, meawhile, argue constantly in the background.

Soon, his parents separate, and Burroughs is sent to live with his mother’s psychiatrist while she questions her sexuality. Burroughs goes to Dr. Finch, who lives in Northampton in a rundown Victorian house with his wife, Agnes. With them are a number of biological and adopted children who live in the house, as well as many of Finch’s own patients. There are essentially no rules within the household. Young children of all ages are having sex, smoking cigarettes and pot, and rebelling against authority figures. Finch believes that all thirteen-year-olds are mature enough to be in charge of their own lives. Despite all of this, the issues that take place in Finch’s household seem to be dwarfed by Burroughs’ mother’s frequent psychotic episodes.

The Finch house represents, and in many ways, is a complete parallel to what Burroughs was used to. It is dirty and infested with bugs. Dirty dishes are left unwashed; the Christmas tree hangs decorated all year. The stairs are so rickety that Burroughs believes he will fall through them if he climbs them. Finch eventually begins to believe that God is communicating with him through his bowel movements. Incredibly, Finch begins to develop a kind of divination to attempt to understand these messages.

Hope, Finch’s second oldest daughter, thinks her cat in dying. She decides to leave it trapped underneath a laundry basket for four days, speeding up the process.

Meanwhile, Burroughs’ mother is showcased in greater detail. She is vain, emotionally unstable, and not even slightly responsible or capable enough to be a parent. She engages in a sexual affair with a minister’s wife. Burroughs discovers this accidentally. While skipping school one day he walks in on the two of them. His mother ends this relationship and starts a new one, this time with an African American woman. This relationship is unstable and unhealthy as well.

A new mental patient arrives at the Victorian house. This is soon after another of Burroughs’ mother’s breakdowns, during which she plays the role of his father. The patient’s name is Cesar, a man who tries to rape Burroughs unsuccessfully while he is sleeping. Burroughs’ mother has another psychotic episode and tries to attack Burroughs while she is moving her belongings out of the house. Burroughs’ mother is eventually restrained on a bed.

Burroughs discovers he is gay. He tells the doctor’s 33-year-old son, Neil Bookman. Between the ages of 13and15 he was sexually abused by Bookman, who forced him to perform oral sex on him. They form a destructive relationship, during which Burroughs’ opinion of Bookman often flip flops. One day he is desperate for attention and the next he can’t wait to get away from the older man. No one seems to be even slightly bothered by this relationship. Bookman becomes obsessed with the boy, and Burroughs threatens to charge him with statutory rape. Eventually Bookman leaves for New York City and is never heard from again, despite Burroughs and the Finch family doing everything they can to contact him.

The next relationship that Burroughs begins to form is with one of Finch’s daughters, a girl named Natalie. She is one year older than Burroughs, and near the beginning of the book Burroughs actually hates her. Now, though, they do everything together, including looking for jobs together, running around the back of a waterfall, and destroying the kitchen in the Victorian house. The two leave the Finch household together.

The end of the book concludes with Burroughs living in his own apartment with Natalie. He is faced with the choice between defending Dr. Finch or his mother. She has accused the doctor of raping her in a motel in order to “cure her” of her psychotic breakdowns. Burroughs considers both his mother and Finch’s family as his own, and he can’t choose. He internally believes that Finch did, in fact, rape his mother. Burroughs decides once and for all to leave Massachusetts. He moves to New York City, and despite not having any kind of plan, he is determined to succeed and make one as he goes.