LITERATURE: Running With Scissors – Voice and Reliable Narrator

Not reading this as quickly as I’d expected–now that I’ve semi-gotten over my inability to concentrate on anything longer than flash fiction. I suspect that while it’s an easy, enjoyable read, it’s also presenting two problems for me.

First, the voice is great. Well-crafted and consistent. It’s a touch of sarcasm and very revealing of the first person narrator, Augusten–this is, after all, a memoir. For me, that meant I was going to be reading a true account, regardless of the content. But I find that “memoir” may allow some flexibility rather than that allowed by autobiography. Memoir would indicate perception of the truth rather than truth itself as others may see it. Therefore, it comes to voice to help me discern what is reliable.

The problem of credibility–I’m finding it difficult to accept not the narrator’s peccadilloes nor the aggression and characters of his mother and his father, but rather the actions and character of his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch. It would seem to me that many of his actions–and here is where the narrator’s story must be most accurate–such as coming over to the family’s house, his “masturbatorium” and his open acknowledgement of it to his patients and the narrator, who at this point is maybe a 12 year-old boy, the hours Finch allows his patient to take up daily, and now, his bringing Augusten and his mother into his own home (more on that) would likely be considered so completely unprofessional as to jeopardize his license to practice.

So while I can accept seeing the story of his life through the eyes of a child who’s grown up (and a bit whacky himself) and relates in a sarcastic nature, I find some of the story incredible. I have found myself reading in a Woody Allen frame of mind in order to accept the recounting of the scenes involving Dr. Finch in particular.

The other problem I was having is that I tend to read closely and the deeper meaning in this story so far escaped me unless I finally take it as “this is why I’m fucked-up today.” His dark humor seems then as a cover for deep hurts and confusion–and one can hardly blame him. I recall when I was reading more mystery and horror novels and then to go into something different I’d still find myself reading for clues, looking for the body.

The writing is very good; the style, the structure, and choice of anecdotes, all are simply detailed and give an excellent image of what is going on. Here, for example, Augusten is with his mother in the filthy kitchen of the doctor’s home, where his sense of order and meticulous personal ways (to the point of obsession) are shocked by the doctor’s children, Natalie and Vickie and the toddler Poo Bear who runs around naked and poops in the living room. Augusten is being told that he must stay at the house a bit longer because his mother desperately needs the doctor’s help.

Her eyes looked different. Wider somehow. Not her own. They scared me. So did the roaches scrambling across the table, over the dishes, up the arm of a spatula.

“Have you been playing with the doctor’s daughters? With Natalie and Vickie?”

“I guess.”

“And have you been having a good time?”

“No, I wanna leave.” The doctor’s house was not at all what I had expected. It was weird and awful and fascinating and confusing and I wanted to go home to the country and play with a tree.  (pg. 53)

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