Running With Scissors is a memoir in which Augusten Burroughs recounts his unusual childhood after his mother sends him to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, at age twelve. There are few rules in the Finch household, and both Augusten and Dr. Finch's other children do mostly as they please, including smoking pot and having sex. At age thirteen, Augusten begins a sexual relationship with Finch's thirty-three-year-old son. Despite this unorthodox, and at times damaging, parenting method, Augusten comes to think of the Finches as his family.
Running With Scissors is the memoir of Augusten Burroughs. It chronicles his life from age 9 to 17. During most of this time Augusten lives with the family of his mother's rather unorthodox psychiatrist.
At the book's beginning, young Augusten enjoys dressing in his mother’s clothes, listening to music and is fascinated by shiny things (mirrors, jewelry) and doctors. He lives with his Mother (Deirdre) and Father in rural Massachusetts. His mother is a narcissistic poet who insists that she will some day be famous. His father is a severe alcoholic and a Mathematicsprofessor at the University of Massachusetts. The relationship is dysfunctional and violent.
Following his mother's first minor psychotic break she begins seeing Dr. Finch, a psychiatrist from Amherst. Before long Deirdre (Augusten's Mother) and Augusten’s father divorce. Augusten and his mother then move to Amherst.
Deirdre’s sessions with Dr. Finch are frequent and lengthy. Augusten befriends the receptionist in the office whose name is Hope. She is one of Dr. Finch’s many biological children.
Soon, Augusten and Deirdre make their first visit to the Finch’s house. Augusten has a preconceived notion that the homes of Doctors are all tasteful and luxurious. He is disappointed to find that the Finch residence, although large, is rundown and filthy. He meets two more of Dr. Finch’s daughters and the three of them play with an old electroshock therapy machine.
Augusten at first stays with the Finches under the guise of needing to be protected against his father. His mother stays elsewhere. Eventually, Dr. Finch becomes Augusten’s legal guardian. Augusten’s primary residence is at the Finch’s, staying with his mother only occasionally.
Augusten begins writing in his journal, at times up to four hours a day. Dr. Finch’s daughter Natalie is one year older than Augusten and becomes his best friend. She is a crude and fearless girl who at one point was placed under the legal guardianship of one of her father’s patients-a forty year old failed tennis player who was also her lover.
Similarly, Augusten becomes the lover of Neil Bookman. Neil was once the patient of Dr. Finch and eventually Dr. Finch adopted him. He is twenty years older than Augusten and coerces him into his first sexual experience. From there the tables turn. Neil becomes somewhat obsessed with Augusten, who is mildly verbally abusive to him. The two are involved romantically and sexually for several years until Neil disappears, and as of the end of the book is never heard from again.
While skipping school one day, Augusten walks in on his mother during a sexual act with another woman. The woman's name is Fern, and she is a minister’s wife. Deirdre is delusional about the relationship’s future, wondering why Fern's husband won't support it, and why Fern won't leave her family. When it ends she immediately takes up with Dorothy, another one of Dr. Finch’s patients. Dorothy is very tolerant of Deirdre’s psychotic breaks,and in fact has numerous issues of her own. She is not upset when Deirdre brings home a man from a mental health retreat, or when she spends three days in a hotel room with another woman.
Life with the Finches revolves around Dr. Finch. At first it seems like an unordinary, humorously mad-capped world, but as the story progresses we see that Dr. Finch has a number of nasty traits that are not humorous in the least. He is an open adulter, approves of and encourages sexual relationships between children and adults, and abuses his influence as a doctor in a number of ways-such as helping Augusten drop out of school before he is sixteen and being unscrupulous about prescribing medication.
Agnes, his wife, is shouldered with the responsibility of dealing with the needs and quirks of the numerous clients that come to live at the house. Dr. Finch makes many demands of her and treats her in a humiliating manner. Hope, who adores her father, is prone to minor psychological breaks, and makes most of her life’s decisions by opening the bible to a random page, plopping her finger down, and making an interpretation based on the word that her finger lands on. Natalie has endured sexual coercion from Dr. Finch’s patients since she was eleven years old. She is angry and boisterous, but seems much more sound than her mother or Hope (Dr. Finch has at least three other children that are only mentioned in passing). She is a steadfast friend to Augusten and encourages him on several occasions to become a writer.
After years of living under Dr. Finch’s roof Natalie and Augusten get an apartment together and begin to attend community college. Natalie excels in her classes, whereas Augusten drops out.
One week after his withdrawal from classes, Deirdre informs Augusten that Dr. Finch has been using medication to manipulate her, and that he once raped her. Natalie believes that his mother has had another breakdown. Dr. Finch wants Augusten’s support in an effort to have Deirdre hospitalized. Augusten believes his mother's claims, and when faced with choosing sides against his best friend, he runs away.
He stays in a motel for a few days then gets his own place. He is employed as a waiter at a steakhouse and begins working towards moving to New York City.