Book Review - Augusten Burroughs gets personal with Santa in You Better Not Cry

Running With Scissors memoirist has a soft spot for the man in the red suit

Augusten Burroughs doesn’t want to be confused for a trained writer. “I don’t write like an MFA grad. I write from a subconscious place. I don’t think while I’m writing. It’s like going into a trance,” he says. “That’s the way people should write.”
The serial-memoirist is capable of speaking from trancelike states, too. He can orate breathlessly for minutes at a time, verbally wandering around subjects like brain chemistry or The Diary of Anne Frank, only to stop himself and ask, “How did I get here?” Like his books, Burroughs’ mouth is both vulgar and charming, the circuitous ramblings only making his monologues more authentic.
While discussing Christmas (his favorite holiday), Burroughs says he sees one common thread throughout his memories, “Each one has been horrible, worse than the last.” He’s recounted those laughably miserable memories in his latest book, You Better Not Cry, a loose collection of Christmas stories spanning from his youth until just a few years ago. Because so much of Burroughs’ personal life has already been published, it’s easy to plug his new stories into that public timeline. The drunken ones fit in before the sobriety of Dry; the earliest childhood recollections pre-date his life with the Finch family in Running With Scissors; and the latest stories come after his publishing success.
Over the phone, Burroughs recalls waking up one Christmas morning in his mid-20s: “The first thing I noticed was the light coming between the drapes, which was nice except that I didn’t have drapes,” he says. He also noticed a “red floating blob hanging in the air,” but couldn’t make out the shape without his glasses. Glasses on, Burroughs realized the drapes hung in a hotel room and the red blob was a Santa costume belonging to the overweight French man in bed with him. “It was a nightmare. I was worried that I had a Santa fetish. If that’s the case, I’m fucked.” Burroughs still doesn’t know how he ended up there. “You tell me. It’s all beer goggles.” The two did not become friends.
Like most of Burroughs’ books, You Better Not Cry opens with a short disclaimer explaining that the “names and identifying characteristics of some people have been changed.” A few years ago, after James Frey was publicly tarred and feathered for lying in his memoir A Million Little Pieces, the family portrayed in Running With Scissors sued Burroughs, alleging he had fictionalized large parts of the story. Eventually, Burroughs agreed to amend the acknowledgements page, saying, “I recognize that their memories of the events described in this book are different than my own.” Dry is prefaced with the admission that parts of the book “are imaginative re-creation, and those episodes are not intended to portray actual events."
“When you say that every word of this is true — you set the bar high for truth,” he says, attributing the attacks on Frey as the result of a “marketing error.” Compressing characters and time or rearranging events doesn’t bother Burroughs. “When I did it in Dry, I didn’t feel that changed the essential truth of the book. It doesn’t fucking matter.”

Christmas, on the other hand, does matter to him. Burroughs says he'd intended to write a series of stories simply mocking the holidays, but, “It’s just not that difficult to make fun of Christmas," he says. "The book is really about finding greatness in the holidays, despite everything. ... Even the most jaded motherfucking New Yorker will stand out in the freezing cold to see the tree light up in Rockefeller Center.”

You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs. St. Martin's Press. $21.99. 206 pp.

More By This Writer


Thursday May 15, 2014 04:00 am EDT
You can do it, but I'm not quite sure that you should | more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 11:55 am EDT

  • Chris Appleton

Americans for the Arts, the national arts nonprofit, has recognized WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton with the 2014 Emerging Leaders Award. Since 2006, the award has been awarded for "visionary leadership by an individual who is a new and/or young arts leader who demonstrates an ability to engage and impact his or her community." Appleton...

| more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 10:00 am EDT

The latest episode of Atlanta's newest talk show features local poet and newspaper man Daniel Beauregard discussing Africa and news with host Gavin Bernard. If you can't stop watching this thing, either, there is also a short episode about pizza bites.

| more...


Friday April 25, 2014 10:47 am EDT



Last night, the 2014 Townsend Prize for Fiction was awarded to Anthony Winkler for his 2012 novel God Carlos. The novel, which tells of Spanish brutalities against native peoples in 16th-century Jamaica, is Winkler's ninth book of fiction. He...

| more...


Tuesday April 22, 2014 02:05 pm EDT


  • Michael Tavani

While working on last month's cover story about email marketing company MailChimp, I noticed that Scoutmob founder Michael Tavani announced that he would stepping back from his day to day role at the company he helped found. To accompany that...

| more...
Search for more by Wyatt Williams

[Admin link: Book Review - Augusten Burroughs gets personal with Santa in You Better Not Cry]