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With or Without You: A Memoir Hardcover – February 26, 2013


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Q&A with Domenica Ruta

Q. With or Without You has been compared to The Glass Castle and The Liar's Club. What do you feel sets your story apart from other memoirs?

A. I intentionally avoided memoirs as a genre during my drinking years because I didn't want anyone to ruin my pity party or kill my buzz. While writing the first few drafts of my memoir I continued this abstention, but this time to protect myself from being influenced. I didn't know what a memoir was supposed to look like structurally or sound like tonally, and this ignorance felt to me like a precious state, the ideal place to start. After a couple of drafts, when I felt like I knew the basic shape and texture of this thing I was writing and was secure in that at least, I went on a memoir spree with an intentionally innocent curiosity. How does So-and-So do it? It was a great experience. I remember the day I read that Mary Karr's mother had the same gun my mum did, and I was so happy. It felt like an omen, or a blessing from the queen. I think all of the mother-daughter stories, the addiction stories, the traumatic childhood stories, speak for themselves. I consider myself lucky to be another voice in this chorus. What we have in common as memoirists is a subjective observation of a common humanity. It's what everyone has in common, whether they write their life stories or not.

Q. Your book is intensely personal. How did you decide to tell such intimate stories to the world?

A. I tried not to think about that aspect for the first draft. I wrote as if no one in the world would ever read a word of it, and told myself, if the issue of personal revelation becomes relevant, I will be more grateful to have this problem than I will be worried. But this approach is critical to writing anything. There are too many voices telling you that everything is a bad idea from the start. I'd never get anywhere if I considered these things in the beginning stages of development. It's a good thing writing is 90 percent rewriting, because with every new draft, I was growing as a person and a craftsman. I was getting stronger and more confident in my decisions--what to tell, what not to tell.

Q. What do you hope readers will learn or take away with them from your book?

A. The point of almost all memoirs, especially the sub-genre of trauma and recovery, is the simple promise that there is hope. I hope my book expands on this--that like hope, there is also beauty, everywhere and always, as long as you are willing to search for it. Ultimately I want readers to feel they've been given a good story, something worth retelling.

From Booklist

In the tradition of such tragic family memoirs as The Liars’ Club (1995) and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2012), Ruta details her struggle to rise above a childhood with a drug-addicted mother. Unexpectedly, her memories are not about shooting up but rather about the dizzying journey down and up the economic ladder as her mother sporadically succeeded at business but utterly failed at parenting. Ruta juxtaposes the hallmarks of abject poverty with visits to her father’s nearby middle-class suburban life, and the schizophrenic shift brought by her mother’s sudden financial boons that were never enough, however, to mitigate the hoarding, filth, or endless pills that led Ruta down her own journey into addiction. She admits when her memories are fuzzy and is bracingly honest about her own failures and never wavers from the emotional truth of what it was like to build a life in such circumstances. The intensity of the clear-eyed manner in which Ruta conveys her abiding frustration with the parents who failed their child so casually and monumentally is exceedingly powerful stuff. --Colleen Mondor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1st edition (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812993241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812993240
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (271 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

If I could go 2 1/2 stars, I would.
Blake Field
I congratulate the author for this very personal and poignant story of her life.
Bonnie Brody
A very fast read because this book is written so well..
Terri E

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Domenica (Nicki) Ruta has written a brutal memoir of life with her mother, Kathi. Kathi is a drug addict and sometimes dealer who likes to share her drugs with Nicki. They live in a dilapidated house filled with garbage in Danvers, a suburb of Boston. Kathi's life goes up and down mercurially from rags to riches and back again. Despite her lack of education, she is a good businesswoman who can make money easily. She also has her drug business to fall back on.

Despite her own lack of education, she has high goals for Nicki. She wants Nicki to succeed in school and goes all out to see that this happens. She sends Nicki to Parochial school and later to high school in a better district than Danvers. She takes Nicki to visit ten boarding schools on the east coast and Nicki wins a scholarship to Phillips Andover Academy. She later goes on to Oberlin.

Nicki and her mother are like oil and water though they are very enmeshed and Nicki feels like she needs her mother's approval and support. Kathi is either stoned most of the time or coming down. She uses oxycontin, heroin, cocaine and alcohol. Gradually, Nicki gets into drugs herself with alcohol being her drug of choice. For many years she is a hardcore drunk with hangovers every day, blackouts, and shakes in the morning. Despite this, she manages to study at the University of Texas Michener Writing Center on a full scholarship with stipend. She can't maintain relationships with men as her drinking creates scenarios where she cheats and lies.

This is a memoir of climbing out from the depths of despair and pain. It is an elegy to persistence, strength, repetition, and trying over and over again to get it right.
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35 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Agnes O'Neil VINE VOICE on January 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've read many memoirs. Among the best - Russell Baker's "Growing Up"; Mary Karr's "The Liar's Club"; Jeannette Walls' "The Glass Castle" -- all with vivid descriptions of people and events that have remained in my memory over many years. Domenica Ruta's "With or Without You" now joins the ranks.

Reading the glowing endorsements from authors whom I respect, I thought they must be hyperbole. But Ruta is the real deal, someone who can tell a story so powerful that you are riveted to the spot, unable to believe such things could happen and moved in myriad ways. She lived a life that defies description with a mother so vivid that you feel her manifest herself from the pages. This is a memoir that is like no other.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By LoveAmazon on February 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Domenica Ruta releases herself from the drug and alcohol induced embrace of her psychotic mother, finally, in her thirties in this cathartic memoir. Her story reads like a wildly swinging pendulum as she shares her chaotic childhood, living with her mother and stepfather surrounded by filth, drugs, and alcohol. In her lucid moments you feel Ruta's mother wants more for her daughter, rooting her on to private education. In her worst moments, she invites Ruta to share her addiction and doesn't protect her from abuse.

Not to discount Ruta's struggles, but by the end of the book, it felt less impactful than it promised to be. It takes courage to bare ugly truths of your family and upbringing and I praise Ruta for revealing herself to the world.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carla Kaiser on October 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I devour memoirs like it's my job. I love them, even the ones with good stories but bad writing. This one is up there with Jeanette Walls' Glass Castle. The characters are believable, yet they behave in ways that are far outside of standard social norms. If this story had been written by anyone else, it's possible that I might find myself thinking judgmental thoughts about the characters. A mother who allows her child to be molested? Horrible person, right? That's why I think Domenica is an excellent writer. She made me love Kathi from the very beginning, and this is why I read memoirs. So I can understand people better.

Besides all that, this book is funny. One of those stories that makes you stay up late, laughing out loud, and then you're sad when it's over.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By lb on July 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wow! I remember you and your cousin as little toddlers...never knew this was happening and I really feel for you. What a sad, heart felt book. Good job Nicki with your sobriety and keep up the good work. Your a great Author and would love to read more!!
Take care,
Leah Welch

5 stars!!!!!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on April 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Domenica Ruta's amazing memoir transforms her suffering into art in "With or Without You."
Ruta grew up in the 80s with Kathi, her abusive drug dealer/addict Italian American mother and passive dependent stepfather. They lived in a trash-filled house in a small town north of Boston. Her mother's highbrow taste was at odds with her chaotic life that swung between welfare and riches.
Although there were few books in the house Ruta's intelligence and love of reading helped her, for the most part, transcend her mother's addictions, abuse, violence and neglect while in High School.
Ruta then chronicles overcoming her own addictions and demons during her college years and the necessary and painful act of breaking away from her mother in the 90s.
After two years of sobriety thanks to AA's Twelve Step Program Ruta says she's learning to live life on life's terms - one day at a time. Her story is a moving testament to the power of resiliency, forgiveness and love. Ruta asks in her book, "Now why can't I apply these principles of compassion to my own mother? Hating Kathi is like begrudging a snake for hissing, a baby for crying, the sun for quietly sinking into the corner of the sky every night. People are who they are and we cannot change them...she was sick like me. She did the best she could."
"With or Without You" is a riveting, inspiring, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.
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