Josh Muggins's Blah Blah Blah

05: August 10, 2008

And Nothing But the TruthcSorta (Part 3)

When last I slunk out of the dank depths of my lightless, vermin-infested, copiously-stocked-with-supermarket-wine cave to update this site, I was mewling and whining in my inimitable fashion about David Sedaris and the damage he had wrought upon all memoirists.

Well, in terms of damage wrought, todayfs subject--Augusten Burroughs--is the Sichuan Earthquake to Sedarisfs Hurricane Katrina, the ebola virus to Sedarisfs bird flu, the
Frank Drebin to Sedarisfs Inspector Clouseau.

Before proceeding with this vivisection, I should reiterate the admission made in an earlier post that the only thing I have read by Augusten Burroughs is his pseudonym. And letfs get this out of the way right up front: gAugusten Burroughsh is one crackerjack pseudonym. You can tell just by the sound of it that a humanoid named gAugusten Burroughsh could polish his toilet bowl with the Josh Mugginses of the world while casually slicing open huge royalty checks with his free hand.

His prodigious pseudonym-composing talents aside, herefs the problem with Augusten Burroughs:

Like David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs apparently uses the real events and people of his life as jumping-off points for uproarious flights of fancy that can only be described as fiction, and then tries to pass them off as gmemoir.h In at least one case, he did this so egregiously and in a manner so hurtful to the real-life people that he was writing about that he provoked a lawsuit.

This suit was not, as one might suppose, a mere libel suit. If it were, the case might have been allowed to go to court where the plaintiffs almost surely would have lost (as nearly everyone who sues for libel does), and the whole tawdry mess would have become nothing more than a shallow pothole in the road between Burroughsfs home and his local ATM. Instead, the plaintiffs?a family that felt falsely portrayed in Burroughsfs signature hit Running With Scissors opted for the novel approach of suing him for $2 million for gdefamation, invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and fraud.h Oh, and libel too.

Wikipediafs account of the out of court settlement:

Burroughs defended his work as "entirely accurate", but agreed to call the work a "book" (instead of "memoir") in the author's note, to alter the acknowledgments page in future editions to recognize the Turcotte family's conflicting memories of described events, and express regret for "any unintentional harm" to the Turcotte family. Burroughs felt vindicated by the settlement. "I'm not at all sorry that I wrote [the book]. And you know, the suit settled-- it settled in my favor. I didn't change a word of the memoir, not one word of it. It's still a memoir, it's marketed as a memoir, [the Turcottes] agreed one hundred percent that it is a memoir."

Now, Ifm fairly sure that that last statement would come as something of a shock to the Turcottes, based on what they told Vanity Fair about the case. But donft take my word for it: check out the story yourself. Wikipedia continues:

Upon settling the Running With Scissors case in August 2007, Burroughs stated, "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, and that it was not fictionalized or sensationalized in any way. I did not embellish or invent elements. We had a very strong case because I had the truth on my side."

Letfs review: Burroughs managed to enrage and sicken (literally sicken) a whole tribe of his subjects--whose real names had not even been used in his book--to such an extent that they were willing to out themselves to the world in exchange for the opportunity to sue him. Burroughs (and/or his publisher) paid that family a substantial sum of money to go away. Thus, a precedent has been set whereby any persons, no matter how carefully their identities are concealed, can sue any memoirist--and not for nearly-impossible-to-prove libel, but simply for hurt feelings over the way they have been portrayed in a book--and reasonably expect to extract from that memoirist a huge chunk of his life's savings.

Personal note from a brother memoirist to Augusten Burroughs: Please, please donft win any more victories for us.

The size of the payout to the aggrieved family is not disclosed in
any source that I could find, but given that they sued for $2 million, it seems reasonable to assume that they settled for around half that sum. Not a big problem for the likes of Burroughs, but personally I donft have a million dollars laying around that I can cough up whenever some personage wakes up one day and decides that her feelings are hurt by what I wrote about a familiar-seeming but differently-named personage in paragraph 3 of page 173 of one of my memoirs.

Oh, to heck with it: Ifm classifying my next memoir as fiction. The whole genre has gotten too sleazy even for someone of my ilk.

Thatfs it--Ifve had it for this month. Ifll be simpering in my cave in the unlikely event thatanyone wants me, and will return in a few weeks with the fourth and final installment of this Roast-the-Lying-Memoirist series, in which I skewer that vile, selfish, suppurating, prevaricating and pompous heathen Josh Muggins.

gcAnd then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.h