|Genre||Memoir (304 pp.)|
|Keywords||Abandonment, Adolescence, Adoption, Alcoholism, Alternative Medicine, Catastrophe, Child Abuse, Children, Depression, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Domestic Violence, Family Relationships, Hospitalization, Humor and Illness/Disability, Illness and the Family, Impaired Physician, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Issues, Love, Marital Discord, Medical Ethics, Mental Illness, Mother-Son Relationship, Power Relations, Professionalism, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Suffering, Suicide, Survival|
This memoir chronicles the pre-adolescent and adolescent years of the author, the son of an alcoholic, abusive mathematics professor father and a psychotic Anne Sexton-wannabe confessional poet mother. The only family member who does not abuse the boy in any way is estranged--an older brother with Asperger’s syndrome. Meanwhile, the amount of trauma to which young Burroughs is subjected boggles the mind. Just when one thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it does.
Burroughs, who loves bright, shiny, orderly things, also likes doctors--paragons of cleanliness, virtue and wealth. Unfortunately, his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, described as a charismatic Santa Claus-look-alike, is unethical, bizarre and squalid. As Mrs. Burroughs becomes more and more dependent on Finch, she allows her son to be adopted into the crazy Finch household.
This family includes wife Agnes, who copes with her husband’s infidelity by sweeping madly; son Jeff, daughters Kate, Anne, Vickie, Hope and Natalie; grandson Poo; and adopted son, Neil Bookman, who is twenty years older than Burroughs and homosexual. When Burroughs is thirteen, and has told Bookman that he, too, is gay, Bookman forces the boy to have oral sex. They become lovers.
The Finches, meanwhile, exhibit their quirks and weird tendencies in multiple ways. "Bible-dipping" is popular to read the future, as is prophesying by examining Dr. Finch’s turds. A patient with agoraphobia, Joranne, lives in one of the rooms--in fact, she has not left the room in two years. Young Burroughs is allowed to smoke and drink. When Burroughs says he doesn’t want to return to school, Dr. Finch facilitates this desire by giving Burroughs alcohol and pills to fake a suicide gesture, then hospitalizes the boy.
Yet Burroughs manages to befriend a couple of the Finch daughters, and to survive his childhood. The book closes with his departure for New York City and with an epilogue outlining various people’s outcomes. Finch lost his license due to insurance fraud.
By virtue of the storyline, and also by the wry, spot-on writing, the reader experiences rapid-fire shifts of emotions--sheer horror, hilarity and a great deal of empathy for this boy. It is the grace of the writing, and its underlying humor, that prevents self-pity from over-running the book. For example, in describing his mother’s incipient psychotic break he states: "Gone were the days when she would stand on the deck lighting lemon-scented candles without then having to eat the wax." (p. 28)
Burroughs kept journals throughout his youth, and perhaps this writing, and his writerly eye, enabled him to step back and survey the scene, rather than be swallowed or drowned by all the abuse and weirdness. Though Burroughs didn’t fly smoothly out of adolescence (his alcoholism is chronicled in his follow-up memoir, Dry), he did indeed survive. And now Burroughs is a best-selling author and a partner in a healthy, gay relationship. Perhaps there is hope for us all.
Editor’s Note, 9/30/05: A lawsuit by the family of a psychiatrist has been filed against the author, his agent, and his publisher, alleging, among other things, fraud in the writing of the book.
Editor’s Note, 9/3/2007: This lawsuit has been settled. Some changes will be made in the author's note and acknowledgments but "memoir" will still appear on the cover and elsewhere. (New York Times, Arts Briefly, August 31, 2007)
|Publisher||Picador (St. Martin's)|
|Place Published||New York|
|Annotated by||Shafer, Audrey|
|Date of Entry||11/16/03|