With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Random House, 2/26/2013
Hardcover, 224 pages
Random House, 2/26/2013
Hardcover, 224 pages
A haunting, unforgettable mother-daughter story for a new generation—the debut of a blazing new lyrical voice
Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as the Godfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.
With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.
With or Without You is a powerful, disturbing, honest memoir by Domenica Ruta. Domenica suffered through a trash-strewn squalid childhood with her single mom, Kathi, in Danvers, Massachusetts. Kathi was a drug addict, dealer, and alcoholic. She was unpredictable and unstable. Even though I had an uncorrected proof, please allow me to share how Domenica describes Kathi:
“Mummy wants to show off her boobies right now.” Her hair was almost black, but she insisted on bleaching it Deborah Harry blond. She had one tattoo, a small but regrettable crab on her left ring finger. It was her astrological sign—the Cancer. Even she was ashamed of it, I know, because she hid it under a gold wedding band long before she ever married. What else do you need to know about this woman before I go on with the story? That she believed it was more important to be an interesting person than it was to be a good one; that she allowed me to skip school whenever I wanted to, and if there was a good movie on TV she wouldn’t let me go to school because, she said, she needed me to stay home and watch it with her; that, thanks to this education, I was the only girl in the second grade who could recite entire scenes from Scarface and The Godfather by heart; that she made me responsible for most of my own meals when I was seven and all the laundry in the house when I was nine; that her ability to make money was alchemical; that she was vainer than a beauty queen, but the last time I saw her she weighed more than two hundred pounds and her arms were encrusted with purulent sores; that she loved me so much she couldn’t help hating me; that at least once a week I still dream she is trying to kill me. (Location 98-107)
As a child Domenica quickly picked up reading on her own. In a family "where people stumbled—and stumbled proudly—over three-syllable words, such a drooling little fiend for literature was endearing to no one. (It should be noted that even the most illiterate of my clan knew their way around a food-stamp application, a subpoena, and a workman’s compensation claim. We were nothing if not adroit at manipulating the system.)"
Kathi would work menial jobs to keep the cable on, get pain killers, and buy good clothes. They also were frequently on welfare. Kathi tried to share her pain killers with Domenica and wanted her daughter to experiment with more drugs at an early age. Domenica, however, resisted much of that (not all) and tried to focus on doing well at school, in spite of her circumstances, although she later succumb to the temptation of addiction. While Kathi's parenting skills were lacking, the whole family had addiction problems. Her grandmother was a dealer, although she wasn't a user. Everyone also swore loudly and often. "And, like movies, bad words were another resource in which my family was truly rich." Domenica also was sexually abused by a relative who was also a pedophile. While her family knew, they choose to remain firmly in denial about his activities.
Finally, Domenica describes her own ascension into drug addiction and alcoholism and how she struggled to overcome her addictions.
I did have a few issues with the book. Her early years began to feel like one bad story of neglect or addiction crashing into another. There was no good time frame or order established to help the reader follow when things occurred. The end felt disjointed and like a lot of information was left out in order to wrap the memoir up quickly. This rushed feeling may simple be due to the amount of time that separates her childhood struggles from her adult addictions and recovery, making the early years easier to reflect upon.
In any event, With or Without You is an emotionally wrought, highly recommended memoir that fans of The Glass Castle may enjoy (keeping in mind that it is not as well written as The Glass Castle).
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House and Netgalley for review purposes.