NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A haunting, unforgettable mother-daughter story for a new generation—the debut of a blazing new lyrical voice
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
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.
Praise for With or Without You
“A luminous, layered accomplishment.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A singular new coming-of-age memoir traces one girl’s twisting path up from mean streets (and parents) to the reflective life of a writer. . . . The burgeoning canon of literary memoir . . . begets another winner in Domenica Ruta’s searing With or Without You. . . . [A] gloriously gutsy memory-work.”—Elle
“Stunning . . . comes across as a bleaker, funnier, R-rated version of The Glass Castle and marks the arrival of a blazing new voice in literature.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Valiant and heartbreaking.”—Bust
“Powerful . . . Ruta found an unconventional voice, a scary good mixture of erudition and hardened street smarts. Her writing is also, as they say in Danvers, wicked funny—though in her case wicked is more an adjective than an intensifier. . . . [With or Without You] hums with jangled energy and bristles with sharp edges. . . . Ruta writes with unflinching honesty.”—Slate
“Bracingly funny and poignant.”—The Boston Globe
Life under an erratic single mom, first on welfare, then a millionaire, in the 1980s proved a wearying contest for survival of the fittest as recounted in this valiant, bittersweet debut by Danvers, Mass., native Ruta. Five feet tall and Italian American, with a loud gutter-mouth, copious breasts, and bleached blond hair, Kathi aka Mum lived from one menial job to the next that kept her comfortably supplied with pain killers she happily shared with her only daughter while concocting conflicting plans for her including school scholarships and early pregnancy. Ruta lived in the basement of her grandfather's house on Massachusetts's North Shore, surrounded by her mother's other Italian American relatives ("a band of lunatics" who enjoyed a "thuggish, moronic code of honor"), as she learned from hard experience to endure her mother's overbearing solicitude, such as when her mother sent 13-year-old Ruta to Catholic school on picture day dolled up like a trollop or traipsing through the most exclusive New England boarding schools seeking admittance. In fact, Kathi's hare-brained scheme worked, and Ruta was admitted to Phillips Academy Andover, where, to her mother's delight, her decidedly square daughter could finally catch up on sex and drugs. Fueled by profits from taking over her second husband's livery business, Kathi delved hard into heroin and other drugs, providing a titanic model for her daughter both to emulate and overcome. Survival required separation, and Ruta's account is a fairly dry, restrained chronicle of a wrenching embrace of health and sobriety.
Good, but Erratic
Perhaps it's a ringing endorsement for a book about addicts to say that it is erratic. That's how I felt reading the book: that it is probably a lot like trying to follow an addict's reasoning to justify their addiction. At times, the prose is brilliant and I actually highlighted passages that rang very true to me. I've never had a destructive addiction like drugs or alcohol, but at times I think everyone behaves in a self destructive manner. Ms. Ruta is such a person. But I'd like to have a clearer picture of how things ended with her mother. The flaw of the book is that the reader is forced to draw their own conclusion about this. Ultimately, though, it's a brilliant memoir of love, loss, and the horrible strength of addiction and it's devastating effect on people's lives.
With or Without You
Could not put this amazing, real and heart grabbing life story down! Accolades to you dear Author!!
Opinion of a fool
I am a complete sucker for a Regan era 80's drug fueled coming of age story. Was looking forward to what i expected to be a Sid and Nancy meets suburbia type prequel.
While Dominique is a no doubt a talented and clever writer, my expectations where not meet.
In order for me to connect and become enveloped in "Nikki's" story, the novel should have been written in chronological order.
In 1993 all of us fell for Quentin Terentino and his cult hit "Pulp Fiction" with his out of sequence story telling. As a visual film this was easy to follow.
Nikki's take on a story told out of sequence in a constant state of flashback took away and desensitized this readers love of for this nostalgic time of a struggling single Mother, drugs, teen angst and rock and roll.
Constantly reminding us to "Check out the big brain on Brad"-Nikki reminded us continually of her extensive education and superior intellect.
No doubt her struggles as molested youth, drug addiction and alcohol are real.
I do need to mention and admit the story did keep me entertained and I finished the book in one day.
I guess when my autobiographical story is finally told as a comedy of a 15 yr. Old child bride from a small Seaside Northern California organic and unique Surf Community, married to a local athletic hero-drug attic, abused, and single surviving and struggling in the 80's. I too will receive my share of criticism.