With or Without You, Domenica Ruta, Spiegel & Grau, 2012, 207 pp
This memoir came into my hands in advance reader's edition form. It will be released in February, 2013. I devoured it in one gulp. It came with high praise from Amy Bloom and Gary Shteyngart. The marketing person compared it favorably to The Glass Castle. All good.
But for at least 50 pages I was underwhelmed. Where was the lyricism of The Glass Castle? Where was the "darkly hilarious" tone? I admit those 50 pages went by in a flash but couldn't say why.
So yes, bad mother on drugs, poverty, crazy unstable life, addiction, blah, blah, blah. The kid turns out to be a reader, the mom does a couple actual helpful things, and this girl, who by middle school was hooked on OxyContin, managed to graduate with good grades from high school and college, while getting into a prestigious MFA program. Did I mention that she also became an alcoholic?
Try as I might to analyze what happened, all I know is that I got hooked on Domenica Ruta's deadpan, affectless prose. Then when she finally figured out that to survive she needed to lose the mom, I had to find out how she did it. Because the truth that makes this memoir real is that we love our mothers no matter who they are or what they do. Even the best, most perfect moms can haunt you; the poisonous ones are an addiction in themselves.
Final analysis: With or Without You is powerful, possibly a classic in the memoir genre, and does not sugarcoat the damage done nor what it takes to live with said damage. Not exactly inspiring, definitely sobering (no pun intended.)
(With or Without You is available in hardcover or audio CD by advance order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)