Augusten Burroughs’ mom sets out to tell her own story

If you’ve read the book Running With Scissors, or seen the feature film version from Ryan Murphy, you probably think Margaret Robison is a crazy woman. In both versions, author Augusten Burroughs details his life with his mom and the family she left him with while she was in and out of mental hospitals during the 1970s, while Augusten (real name Chris Robison) was between the ages of 12 and 15.

Margaret has just published her own memoir, The Long Journey Home, in which she tells her own truths and life story. But, strangely, there isn’t much about Chris or discussion of his success and writings in which she disagrees with until the very end. Much of her book is about, well, her; her poetry, her struggles with depression, her abusive relationship with her husband and her sexuality. Margaret had several sexual relationships with women and knew she was attracted to females from an early age.

In Running With Scissors, Margaret seduces a member of her poetry club named Fern (played by Kristin Chenoweth) and later has a relationship with another patient of her psychiatrist, Dorothy (played by Gabrielle Union). But Margaret’s relationships were with long-time friends, and she refutes the claim that Chris walked in on her making love to a woman on the couch. She writes:

…a thing we would have never done. And his disgusting description of our lovemaking as well as his talk with [my lover] outside the apartment were both fiction, fiction his anger toward me must have inspired. That he was having a sexual relationship [with a man] contributed nothing to his understanding and acceptance of me as his mother having a sexual relationship with another woman. … It wasn’t long before Chris returned to the apartment and came into the kitchen shouting angrily at me for having sex with a woman.

Margaret isn’t the only one who has disagreed with how Augusten depicted this time in his life: The Turcotte family (aka the Finches in Running With Scissors) sued the author in 2006, ultimately getting him to agree to call it a “book” instead of a memoir. By then, though, it was already a national best seller and Augusten and his publishers stood by his memories.

Unlike the Turcottes, Margaret actually seems to relish the attention she’s gotten from the book and film’s popularity, despite her being painted as a drug-addled narcissist and the world’s worst mother. Though they don’t speak much anymore, Augusten says he isn’t surprised that his mom is basking in his success and taking a lot of the credit for it. He said in an interview:

The first thing my mother said to me — it was an email. I haven’t been in contact with her now for years. But right after or before Running with Scissors came out I told her there’s a book coming out, and my mother said to me, “What will I tell my media?”

…But my mother, to her credit, she always did encourage me to write. So she did — she definitely played a part, I think, in getting me to write.

Margaret is a prolific poet, but prose, unfortunately, is not her strong-suit. The Long Journey Home, which she says she began writing before Running With Scissors was published, is a self-aggrandizing portrait of the woman who we got a fair glimpse of in her son’s work. While we don’t know certain facts from fiction, Margaret’s memoir is largely about the sad, cringe-inducing things that have happened to her in life. It’s not humorous at all like Running with Scissors, and a lot of the time I can’t help but wonder how she is able to remember so many details from decades ago when she was under the influence of mood-altering pharmaceuticals, yet say she cannot recall some of her son’s claims of abuse or poor treatment at the hands of his father.

If you’re a literary voyeur like myself, you might enjoy some more backstory on the Robison family. (It’s worth noting that Margaret’s other son, John Elder, is also an author and memoirist.) But be prepared for a long-winded journey of a woman who sees herself as a victim and ultimately has a publishing deal so she can, at the very end of her book, refute some things she sees as lies.

 

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