Because I watched the movie, I read the book. Because I read the book, I read his mother’s book. Then I wished I hadn’t, and here’s why.
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and The Long Journey Home by Margaret Robison are billed as memoirs. The subject matter is dicey: gays, lesbians, adultery, alcoholism, and mental illness. Something most of us don’t encounter on a daily basis like this family did. Stuff great stories are made of, right?
One night when there was nothing else to watch on TV I flipped to the movie Running with Scissors. Annette Bening, Joseph Fiennes, Alec Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow, 116 minutes of comedy and drama. What’s not to like? The all-star cast held my attention. The movie was interesting, but it was a movie, right? I wanted to read the book to see how much of the story was actually true.
So I read the book, and when I finished Running with Scissors, I wanted to know more about this mother Margaret Robinson, a poet, teacher and writer I’d never heard of. With a college degree, someone who can probably put words on paper better than I can.
So I read The Long Journey Home, and wished I hadn’t. There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent in this family. All of them write well. Best sellers. But having watched the movie and read both books, I’m still no closer to the truth. Who is lying? Who is exaggerating? Does it even matter?
In most cases no. But in my case, it did. I am a mother. I have a son. I wanted to know why a mother would publicly call her son a liar. Why a son would change his name. I hoped to find the answers in the pages of the books, but when I was finished, I was depressed. Really, really depressed. So depressed I was in a bad mood for days. A mother tries to tell her side of the story, but can’t remember the details. An alcoholic husband and father shouldering most of the blame, is dead. His story remains untold. And the son and his brother are brilliant writers. Amen.
This brings me to why we read in the first place. Some read to escape, others for adventure. I read to understand human nature, and when I finished The Long Journey Home, I felt cheated. I was no closer to understanding the human nature of this family than I was knowing why my dog Emily growls at my husband all the while eating from his hand.
And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to understand. But I did learn something. There are better ways to spend my time, better books to read.