August 31, 2007

"I consider this not only a personal victory but a victory for all memoirists. I still maintain that the book is an entirely accurate memoir..."

Says Augusten Burroughs after settling the lawsuit brought by the psychiatrist's family he depicted in "Running with Scissors." The terms of the settlement?
[He] agreed to call the work a "book" instead of "memoirs," in the author's note - though it still will be described as a memoir on the cover and elsewhere - and to change the acknowledgments page in future editions to say that the Turcotte family's memories of events he describes "are different than my own." It will also express regret for "any unintentional harm" to them.

Howard Cooper, a lawyer for the family, said financial terms of the settlement are confidential.
They'd asked for $2 million and for a public retraction and a statement that the book is mostly fiction. I don't know how much, if any, money they got, but they obviously didn't get the statements they wanted out of Burroughs. So their memories are "different"? Their memories could be wrong.

In fact, his publisher has released a statement saying the book is "entirely accurate."

When I read the book, I assumed it was fictionalized -- though it was called a memoir -- because what Burroughs was describing was so horrible (and funny). I'm a little sorry to hear it's true, because I feel sorry for the poor boy. I hope he's found happiness in his art (and in his life).
"I consider this (settlement) not only a personal victory but a victory for all memoirists. I still maintain that the book is an entirely accurate memoir, and that it was not fictionalized or sensationalized in any way," Burroughs said. "I did not embellish or invent elements. We had a very strong case because I had the truth on my side."

In the publisher's statement, St. Martin's called the settlement "a complete vindication of the accuracy of the memoir."
But the Turcottes are also claiming vindication:
"With this settlement... we have achieved everything we set out to accomplish when we filed suit two years ago," the family said in the statement. "We have always maintained that the book is fictionalized and defamatory. This settlement is the most powerful vindication of those sentiments that we can imagine."
Considering the nature of the agreed-upon public statement, this belief sounds like pure fantasy. So these are the people whose memories differ from the author's? They're distorting right now, in plain view!

Amba seems to think Burroughs took more of a hit, and she's laughing at the idea of the genre called "book."

4 comments:

John Stodder said...

Memoir implies "what I remember." If Burroughs' position is his book is true to his memory of the events, then it is a memoir. So long as he didn't deliberately falsify anything, which, evidently the family was unable to prove by a preponderance of the evidence to the satisfaction of their lawyer.

Since we don't transcribe our lives, since even a diary (or a blog) is a recollection of the events of a given day that might already be bent by the normal process of memory decay, then all memoirs will be inherently unreliable in part. That's a given, and discerning readers know that going in.

If the family wants to restore their father's reputation, they are free to write their own glowing memoir, and thanks to the Internet, it would be read by all who are interested.

blake said...

Titus does his stand-up routine based on horrifying material, though perhaps not as horrifying as Scissors. It's usually pretty clear where he's exaggerating for comic effect, I think.

There's a kind of heroism in taking that level of dysfunction and turning it into comedy rather than Oprah fodder.

amba said...

we have achieved everything we set out to accomplish when we filed suit two years ago," the family said

I read that to mean: money talks, and a lot of money talks loud. He had a lot of success off those stories, and maybe they felt they had a proprietary interest in them that they had not been compensated for till now.

George said...

Sounds like the family picked up a bundle from both Sony and the publisher and part of the deal was the author and publisher got to save face with weasel words.

Story does not say who the family's attorney was.

Perhaps the Prof. knows, but I suspect the world of corporate libel law is a very small one, and I'll bet that just finding a top lawyer to take their case says something about the strength of the plaintiff's case.

Going up against Sony and the NY publisher is no small feat....