Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors
Okay, I went into this one with a really nasty attitude because A.) It was a huge hit several years ago, which usually means that there’s no way it can possibly live up the hype; and B.) Because I read Burroughs’ novel Sellevision and was deeply unimpressed. But actually…this is HYSTERICAL. I mean, it’s horrible, too, but Burroughs manages to play up the absurd aspects of his situation (crazy mother, sent to live with her psychiatrist, molested by a fellow patient) without negating the awfulness of it all. You feel terrible for fourteen-year-old Augusten, who is involved in a “relationship” with his 33-year-old rapist, but the fact that he evenly splits his time between obsessing over his future as a hairdresser and figuring out ways to further erode his “lover’s” self-esteem…I am a terrible person, but I found that shit HILARIOUS.
I hope there are great poker games in hell…
Recommended for: Definitely not the faint of heart. Or the homophobic. Or Scientologists, for that matter, since the “mental health care professionals” in this book will only give Tom Cruise more anti-psychiatry ammunition.
Frank Abagnale, Catch Me if You Can
Speaking of inappropriate sexual relationships with minors–Abagnale’s mother was 15 when she married his father. His father was 28.
Say it with me: GROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!
Every time Abagnale started going on about how much he loved his daddy and how great the old man was, I just remembered what I was like as a teenage girl, and wondered what kind of 28-year-old man would have wanted to play house with me before I was old enough to drive. Answer: a seriously disturbed one. But anyway. Onward!
For those of you who have not seen the movie of the same title and don’t know the premise: Abagnale was a con man, and a pretty damned good one. He ran away at sixteen and spent the next five years or so pretending to be an airline pilot a decade older; in the process, he apparently porked a lot of ladies and swindled Pan-Am and various banks out of millions. This was an enjoyable read, partially because Abagnale just seemed to genuinely have a great time fucking with people: his childlike glee is rather infectious, even though you know he’s hurting people and taking advantage of them. The other reason why I liked this book so much was that it pretty thoroughly puts paid to the notion of a criminal mastermind. Abagnale succeeded in bilking his victims not because he was so incredibly clever–although make no mistake, he’s a sharp guy–but because he exploited existing weaknesses within the system and preyed on people’s desire to trust strangers in uniforms. In short, it doesn’t take a genius to make out like a bandit; it just takes a crook. If you’re willing to bald-face lie to people, you’ll be amazed what you can get away with. But then, those of us who have dated sociopaths already knew that.
Enjoyableness aside, some things about this book just plain grated. The language, for one, was overwrought and somewhat sickening: Abagnale and his ghost-writer stuck to this outdated, kool kat sixties lingo that made me snort with derisive laughter until I finally became so numb that I quit noticing it. Also, Abagnale’s attitude towards women is pretty much what you’d expect from a guy raised in the fifties and lacking a moral compass that points due north. He talks about women like they’re walking blow-up dolls and calls that “appreciation.” Blech. His misogyny is gross, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by it; since he doesn’t view people in general as human beings with actual feelings, why should he think of women as anything other than objects? I could have dealt with the constant, low-level hum of his hatred, but the fact that he ripped off a high-class prostitute and was proud of it is just plain repugnant. He makes a big deal about how he’d never before stolen from an individual person or from any business where the money would come out of an employee’s paycheck; the prostitute was his first and only exception. I don’t know why he felt so angry that she wanted him to pay for it: it was nothing personal. That was her line of business. But he swindled her, and took great joy in it, and acted like he was some Robin Hood-style hero for doing it. Newsflash, dickwad: that hooker wasn’t the head of some huge corporation who would never feel the financial pinch. Robbing her was the sex-work equivalent of knocking over a mom and pop store–it hurt no one but her, and fancy hotel suite aside, she was struggling to begin with. You think there’s any security in whoring? There’s no healthcare, no retirement plan, and if your looks start to go (and they inevitably will), if you haven’t socked away enough money to live on, you’re going to start a long, slow slide into more and more unpleasant forms of prostitution. Trufax. I don’t expect a teenage boy to understand that, but Abagnale wasn’t a teenage boy when he wrote this–and although he felt bad (or at least said he felt bad) about some of his other stunts, he seemed to take nothing but pride in robbing this woman, even over a decade later.
Also…and this isn’t a criticism of the book per se, because it’s actually part of the Q&A portion that they did with Abagnale after the movie’s release. In it, he said that he’s now actually a big fan of French prisons, because they totally suck and if you’re a criminal, that’s what you deserve. Um, dude. I read your book, even the part about the French prison. They threw you, naked, into a stone cellar and forced you to live without clothes, light, a toilet, or a bed for six months. By the time you came out, you were covered in your own shit and crawling with vermin. You nearly died. And for what reason? Because you stole from people. You stole from people–which is awful–but it doesn’t mean that you deserved to be brutalized almost to death. Seriously. What the hell?
Recommended for: People who like to imagine what they would do if they had no conscience.