In the summer of 2002, when Theresa Turcotte found out that Augusten Burroughs had written a book that was already a best-seller, she was happy for him.
They had grown up together as teenagers in western Massachusetts, in the 1970s and 80s, and Burroughs had spent a great deal of time at her family's house. It was no secret, to either Theresa or her family, that parts of his childhood had been wrenchingly difficult, that he had been caught in the middle of his parents' volatile marriage and subsequent divorce. She also says she knew of Burroughs's obsession with fame back in those days, so she assumed that the success of the book, a memoir called Running with Scissors, must have made him especially pleased. Critics all over the country were hailing Burroughs as a genius. Carolyn See, writing in The Washington Post, suggested that his book might well be the best modern memoir ever, and it hit the New York Times best-seller list shortly after it was published.
Her curiosity piqued, she went in search of the book on the Internet. It was then that she got her first inkling that it contained enormous amounts of information about her family. She would ultimately discover that her parents, herself, and her four sisters and one brother, renamed the Finches, were actually a major focus of the book. And, she says, Burroughs had never told her he was writing it, despite his phone calls to her in the late 1990s.
She went to a bookstore in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she lives, to buy a copy of Running with Scissors. As she thumbed through it, she could feel her anxiety heighten. But because she still had obligations that day at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she works as a public-health practitioner, it wasn't until that night at home that she began to read it.
The character based on Theresa is named Natalie, and in her first appearance she is described as a "ratty" 13-year-old. In the next reference she has "long, greasy stringy hair and dirty clothes." In the next five pages she is described "spilling crumbs down the front of her striped halter-top" from a tube of Pringles and wiping "her hands on her bare knees" and using the word "cunt."
As she continued to read, Theresa says, she found it difficult to fathom the book's malice toward her and her family. It was filled with things that she believed were categorically false or had been wildly embellished. She also could not believe that Burroughs had revealed details about events in her life that had occurred 20 years earlier and had been horribly painful for her—so painful that she had spent years in therapy trying to overcome them and had never told her own daughter about them.
She continued to read that night, occasionally stopping because she simply could not bear to read anymore, she says, only to pick the book up again several minutes later. Sometimes she had to stop to run to the bathroom and vomit. "I have never vomited so much in my life," she says.