By Danielle J.
Lately, I’ve seen numerous memoirs passing over the circulation desk and have marveled at the seemingly indiscriminate flurry of people rushing to tell their stories. Great memoirs take more than just an interesting life or unique experience. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Neil Genzlinger wrote: “What makes a good memoir — it’s not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.”
This is the essence of Domenica Ruta’s memoir, With or Without You. In this powerful book, Ruta has many opportunities to turn up the melodrama or self-pity. Instead she tells this gut-wrenching story of growing up with a drug addicted mother and an abusive extended family by honestly and evenly narrating her experience. Ruta’s childhood left her with a warped sense of love and normalcy which she discusses frankly, even when it isn’t very flattering. The book is honest but never veers toward being self-indulgent or voyeuristic, which would be easy, given her experience.
She writes about how her broken childhood turned in to a very broken adulthood, describing her own addiction (beginning at age 10), her cruel mistreatment of her boyfriend, and her commitment to self-destruction. It is not meant as a confession, or plea forgiveness, but to show her damaged path to self-discovery and some, perhaps universal, discoveries along the way. It’s brilliantly written and heartbreaking, so keep the tissues close.
As a memoir lover, I was late to the Mary Karr party. I recently read The Liar’s Club, which is the godmother of the recent memoir renaissance. The back of the book describes it as a “profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood” which is accurate. It’s hilarious, sad, nutty and one of those stories that is so outrageous it has to be true. It requires little introduction and you won’t regret reading it.