With or Without You
Domenica Ruta grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, in a ramshackle, rundown, trash-filled house with her mother, a drug dealer and user who raised Domenica on a steady diet of Oxycontin. Growing up, Domenica knew she didn’t fit in -she was far smarter and worse dressed than everyone else she knew, and she clearly had the most flamboyant mother of anyone in town – but she found solace in writing and reading. As she grew older, though, and as her mother’s behavior grew increasingly outrageous and her home life increasingly untenable, Domenica fled Danvers only to become ensared by the demons of addiction.
A thoroughly textured and masterfully written book, layered with wildly colorful characters, a biting sense of humor, and penetrating, deeply sympathetic insights, With or Without You finally ends with Domenica’s increasing awareness that she must leave the life she grew up with in order to survive.
I found this really, really tiresome. I think in order to enjoy a ‘my tragic life’ narrative, it’s necessary that you can relate to the narrator, find them endearing, feel sympathy for them. I could not find a lot of sympathy for Ruta, given the way she presents herself in this book.
Of course I didn’t think ‘well she deserved to have such a difficult relationship with her mother’, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her. The way she presents herself is utterly unlikeable, which is baffling given that this is her own book. She could make the reader feel untold amounts of sympathy for her, and yet she constructs her own character in a way that just made her seem seriously unpleasant.
It almost seemed to me as though Ruta’s main problem with her mother was her weight. I lost track of just how often she writes about her mother’s weight in what seems to be a very judgemental way – the woman is a violent drug addict, and yet I’m supposed to be horrified that she weighs two-hundred pounds? Yeah, nice try. I’ve read narratives from people who hate their mother, and of course we’ve all read narratives from people who love her mother, but Ruta’s feelings towards her mother seem to be of general distaste. Ruta also thinks that she is super clever when compared to everyone else in her life, which is pretty irritating to read.
As much as variety is the spice of life, I think you should pick one way of naming someone you’re writing about and use that at least eight times out of ten. Only use an alternative name when you’re using it to make a point. Ruta cannot decide what name she wants to use: Kathi, my mother, that woman, Mom, Mum.
Near the end of the book, Ruta makes these following statements: “I will not become my mother. I will not get fat like her. [...] My ass will never resemble a large sack of potatoes.” Thus ending the memoir that could be called ‘I Hate My Fat Mom/Mum/Mother [delete as applicable].’
Only recommended if tragic memoirs are absolutely your favourite thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.
A free copy of this book was downloaded from NetGalley.com.