Book Review: The Long Journey Home

The Long Journey Home: A Memoir

Margaret Robison

Spiegel & Grau

400 pages

The Long Journey Home begins during Margaret Robison’s childhood in Cairo, Georgia.  Born in the 1930s, Cairo seems to be an idyllic childhood setting.  Lush pecan trees and other foliage pepper Robison’s prose, but something more sinister lurks in the background.  Robison’s mother, for one, is a cold, frigid woman who has trouble showing her love to her children.  Robison is especially troubled when, as a young teenager, she overhears her mother telling her father that she is not sure whether she can live with Robison being a lesbian, something that she has begun to suspect.  This is only one example of the seclusion Robison felt during her early years, and it only carried on to adulthood.

While Robison was away studying at college, she met her future husband, John Robison.  John was studying to become a minister, and at first he seemed like a clean cut gentleman.  Robison quickly discovered that all was not as it seemed; John turned out to be an alcoholic who abused Robison during his alcohol fueled rages.  Robison made a few attempts to leave the relationship, both before and during her marriage, but always ended up returning to John.

Robison and John both eventually spiraled downward into clinical depression and even psychosis.  The extent of John’s mental illness was impossible to gauge, as the reader only knows what Robison herself remembers from the time, but Robison herself is quick to admit to her own mental illness. While she attempted to assuage her demons with painting and writing, there were times when she was completely debilitated by her illness.

Here’s where it gets interesting; both Robison and her husband were treated by the complete whack job Dr Turcotte.  For those of you familiar with Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, you will recognize Dr Turcotte as the loony Dr Finch.  Robison spent years under the care of Dr Turcotte, spending time in and out of mental hospitals, as well as the hotel that Turcotte used to treat his patients.  Eventually, years later, after Turcotte had had a lasting impact on her family, Robison realized the control he was exercising over her and she severed all ties with him.  By then, the ramifications had already become apparent.

Robison has two sons, John Elder and Augusten Burroughs, referred to in the book by his birth name Christopher.  Although there had always been abuse in the marriage between Robison and her husband, John Elder was out of the house by the time the marriage imploded and Robison started her downward spiral into mental illness.  Chris was largely affected by the environment during his teenage years, and Turcotte played a large part of in that.

Given the notoriety of Running with Scissors, I was surprised that Robison didn’t focus more on the decisions she made at that time and, more importantly, the impact it had on Chris.  In my opinion, she completely glossed over her parental decision making at that time, as well as her relationship with Chris.  There were a few instances where she attempted to discount certain allegations that her son had made in his book, but they were very scattered.

As soon as I finished The Long Journey Home, I immediately reread Running with Scissors.  It had been a few years since I read it, and I wanted to compare the two memoirs. Burroughs had quite a bit to say about his mother and I was surprised that she hadn’t gone more in depth on the way she was portrayed in his book.

The two memoirs are completely different in tone and depth.  Robison’s memoir spans her entire life and was very serious.  It also was not completely linear, with her jumping back and forth at some points.  Burroughs’ memoir, on the other hand, is more comedic, being darkly humorous.  I was surprised that, while Burroughs was hit with a lawsuit by the Turcotte family due to the sensitive nature of his book, as well as their claims of false allegations and embellishments despite using fake names for the family members, Robison used their real names.  And her account of Turcotte and his family was pretty much just as bad as that of Burroughs. Whether there will be any ramifications of that, we have yet to see.

Overall, while I expected The Long Journey Home to shed more light on Robison’s relationship with her famous son, I still found the insight into her creative outlets and her mental illness to be quite fascinating.

About Margaret Robison

Margaret Robison is an artist and the author of four books of poetry. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

Learn more about Margaret at her website, www.margaretrobison.com.


Margaret Robison’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, June 1st:  Well Read Wife

Thursday, June 2nd:  The Girl from the Ghetto

Monday, June 6th:  Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, June 7th:  Life in Review

Thursday, June 9th:  Silver and Grace

Monday, June 13th:  Reviews by Lola

Monday, June 20th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos

Friday, June 24th:  Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, June 27th:  The Book Lady’s Blog – guest post

Thursday, June 30th:  Rundpinne

Thursday, July 7th:  SMS Book Reviews

Friday, July 8th:  Colloquium

Friday, July 15th:  Thoughts of Joy

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10 Responses

  1. Wow! What a great review! I read Running with Scissors years ago and I remember enjoying. I would have thought that the author would have talked about her parenting decisions too. I might pick this up.

    • She was pretty quiet about her parenting decisions, which led me to believe that Burroughs’ claims were probably pretty truthful. Not to mention, she pretty much glossed over the fact that she allowed her 15 year old son to have a sexual relationship with a man in his thirties.

  2. Wow, what a story! I wasn’t crazy about Running With Scissors, but my mom loved it. I’ll have to get this book for her.

  3. I’m a big Augusten Burroughs fan but turned this book down for review — partly due to time commitments and partly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn more about this crazy family. Plus, I suspected that after Augusten’s viewpoint, this was bound to be less funny (which was a large part of the appeal of his writing). Good review …it made me glad I took a pass on it if that makes sense.

  4. How interesting to encounter a “character” from another memoir. I love when lives cross paths!

  5. John Elder Robison also has a memoir of his own — Look Me in the Eye. He was diagnosed later in life with Asperger Syndrome. I liked that one a great deal — much more than Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors. I might pick this one up at some point, to learn yet another point of view form the same family. However, I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to do so.

  6. Not read this, but want to, albeit Running with Scissors intrigues more. Sounds like a crazy family.

  7. I’m glad you found the book to be a good read even though it didn’t give you the insights into RUNNING WITH SCISSORS that you were hoping for.

    Thanks for being on the tour! I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  8. Lola, you have written a wonderful and very honest review of this book! I really appreciate you doing that, and congrats on being featured on the TLC Facebook page. You go, girl.

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentence, “In my opinion, she completely glossed over her parental decision making at that time, as well as her relationship with Chris.” I was extremely frustrate by her refusal to acknowledge her responsibility on Augusten’s rape. When a boy is that young and having sex with a man in his 30’s, it is RAPE, and it was horrifying to read how she had referred to his rape as a “relationship.”

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