Rarely ever have I experienced such mixed feelings about a book as I've had reading Domenica Ruta's memoir, With or Without You http://www.domenicaruta.com. This tome provides the world with a horrifying peak at Domenica's life with her abusive, drug addled mother, Kathi.
I was drawn to reading this book after hearing Domenica's “Here and Now” interview on NPR, one in which she came across as a very wise and strangely sweet person clinically describing a childhood where she lived in a house filled with garbage and was fed a steady diet of drugs by her mother http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/03/11/domenica-ruta-book.
At times, I felt like Domenica was tattling on some of Kathi's relatives, describing their struggles with money and healthy relationships, sometimes in a very petty tone. On the flip side, Domenica exposes her Uncle Vic as a child molester and a family who knew of this abuse and chose to ignore it. It's hard to feel empathy for a group who would knowing allow this to happen to a child and do nothing to stop it.
I was hardly surprised when Domenica turned to alcohol as a means of coping with the dysfunction. We are all ultimately responsible for our own actions, and Domenica appears to give homage to that idea. I appreciated Domenica's honest assessment of her behavior by not glossing over any of the cringing details. Domenica's eventual journey to sobriety is hardly unique, but it is one in which I can feel a great deal of empathy. I would venture to guess this memoir is related to Domenica's struggles to overcome alcoholism. If writing is good therapy, then Domenica wrote herself a book's worth!
Did I like the book? Yes and no. It was interesting in a very voyeuristic way, but it left me feeling angry, especially the parts about the molestation. On the plus side, Domenica is very fair in the assessment of her mother, carefully pointing out Kathi's rare good qualities. That's what makes this so real. Most people aren't all good or all bad and this book illustrates that very well.
Despite an indescribably maladjusted lifestyle, Kathi made sure Domenica received a high quality education. As a result, Domenica is keenly intellectual and a very skilled writer. That's not to say that things didn't jump around a little in With or Without You. I give Domenica a pass on this because it is the way things tend to go when recounting a story that took place over a long period of time.
With or Without You definitely held my interest, but it left me feeling very unsettled. I awarded With or Without You with three out of five stars on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4673038.Adele_Park