Autobiography of adolescent trauma depicting the author’s quest for survival in an unorthodox family alongside his quest for fabulous hair.
Copywriter turned novelist Burroughs (Sellevision, 2000) captures in his memoir a particular cultural moment in the late 1970s and early ’80s when the baby boomers’ flaccid if-it-feels-good-do-it ethos soured. “My parents loathed each other and the life they had built together,” he writes. The estrangement of his increasingly manic-depressive poet mother and cold, alcoholic father flung young Burroughs into the strange Northampton, Massachusetts, household of family psychiatrist Dr. Finch, a jolly and permissive yet ominous figure who advocated intense therapy and nonjudgmental fathering. At his mother’s insistence, Burroughs spent much of his adolescence living among the Finches. The fussy, hairdressing-obsessed boy was unnerved by their squalid household but became close with irascible daughters Hope and Natalie, participating in their substance abuse and delinquency, helping them wreck the Finches’ dilapidated Victorian house. The doctor’s pseudo-parenting encouraged the boy’s sexual relationship with creepy, manipulative, much older Neil Bookman, Finch’s “adopted son.” When the doctor coached Burroughs to stage a suicide attempt in order to get out of going to school, our hero began to wonder whether life with the Finches would equip him, or Hope, or Natalie with mainstream survival skills—eventually, surprisingly enough, it did. Burroughs strongly delineates the tangled, perverse bonds among these high-watt eccentrics and his childhood self, aspiring to a grotesque comic merger of John Waters and David Sedaris. However, his under-edited prose is frequently uninspired and rambling, relying on consumer-culture references (from Clairol, Pat Benatar, Brooke Shields, Captain and Tennille, Sea Monkeys, the Brady Bunch, to Magic Eight Balls, etc., etc.) and repetitive sequences of abrasive dialogue (“Stop antagonizing me. . . . Just stop transferring all this anger onto me”). Presumably he garnered these details from his oft-mentioned journal, but they fail to deepen the characters.
An unusual upbringing, reconstituted into a very usual memoir.