Synopses & Reviews
A haunting, unforgettable mother-daughter story for a new generation — the debut of a blazing new lyrical voice.
Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving Italian town north of Boston where in the seventeenth century women were hanged as witches. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious figure in this hardscrabble place, was a drug addict and sometime dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, whose highbrow taste was at odds with her base appetites. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter the idea that art — via a classic film or a classical education — 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’s unconventional coming of age — a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s childhood 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, Domenica Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.
"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. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Freakishly brilliant, brilliantly freakish, this is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Domenica Ruta has done something every artist with a failed family must do: She has created herself.” Gary Shteyngart
“ ‘Make it new,’ Ezra Pound directed, and Domenica Ruta has. Difficult childhoods are plentiful; the talent to transform adversity into art is in short supply. Unflinching in its regard, forgiving in its humor, With or Without You is that rare thing, a story you think you know transformed into one you have to read to the end.” Kathryn Harrison
“In the world of memoir, Mary Karr’s and Geoffrey Wolff’s exceptional books burn and brighten, like actual stars among strings of tinsel. With or Without You is like that. I will read whatever Domenica Ruta writes.” Amy Bloom
“Too often the memoir category sacrifices good writing to the quick pulse of the storyline, but Domenica Ruta is a real and excellent writer who has language by the throat. She writes with big beauty, deep respect for language, and drives her story with huge humanism, empathy, and humor.” Gabrielle Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author of Blood, Bones & Butter
About the Author
Domenica Ruta was born and raised in Danvers, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a finalist for the Keene Prize for Literature and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, Jentel, and Hedgebrook.