Three years after it was published, a best-selling memoir about a Northampton psychiatrist and his family has drawn a lawsuit alleging defamation, emotional distress, fraud, and invasion of privacy.
Using made-up names in his 2002 book ''Running With Scissors," Northampton author Augusten Burroughs described living several years with a psychiatrist, ''Dr. Finch," and his crazy family in the late 1970s. ''Dr. Finch" was given custody of Burroughs, who was then about 9, by his troubled mother. A movie version of ''Running With Scissors" -- directed by ''Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, and Vanessa Redgrave -- is due out next year.
Six members of the Turcotte family, whose patriarch was Dr. Rodolph H. Turcotte, who died in 2000, are suing Burroughs, his agent, and publisher St. Martin's Press in Middlesex Superior Court. The suit demands a public retraction of the book and a public statement that it is fiction and not a memoir. The suit also asks that the publisher be enjoined from continued publication and distribution of the book.
The suit alleges that even with the name change, the ''Finches" were easily recognizable as the Turcottes. It also contends that Burroughs ''fabricated events that never happened and manufactured conversations that never occurred" in order to ''knowingly cause harm and humiliation to the Turcotte family." The complaint also says Burroughs identified the Turcottes in media appearances, including an interview in People magazine, and that he presented them as ''an unhygienic, foul, and mentally unstable cult engaged in bizarre and at times criminal activity."
Howard M. Cooper of Boston, the Turcotte family's lawyer, said the prospect of the film, now in production, precipitated the complaint. ''With the forthcoming movie," he said, ''the family is living in fear that there will be utter devastation to their reputations, and the invasion of their privacy will be complete." The suit does not attempt to block the release of the movie from TriStar Pictures.
In the story, the ''Finch" psychiatrist and family members are bizarre to varying degrees. The mother eats dog food, while a pet cat is tortured, killed, buried, and dug up again. A pedophile, who molests the boy, lives in a shed out back. The psychiatrist, described as a Santa Claus look-alike, dispenses pills recklessly and at one point helps the boy fake suicide with alcohol and Valium to avoid going to school. Despite the elapsed decades, much of the action is described in fine detail, including gestures and dialogue.
Reached yesterday by telephone, Burroughs said of the complaint, ''I can't comment at all." Gregg Sullivan, associate director of publicity for St. Martin's Press, said, ''We don't comment on matters under litigation."
David Mehegan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.