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With or Without You
Cover of With or Without You
With or Without You
A Memoir
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
“Exceedingly powerful.”—Booklist
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
“Exceedingly powerful.”—Booklist
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    DirtyMy childhood took place in the 1980s. i cut my baby teeth on the cardboard record sleeve of Supertramp's Breakfast in America. Ronald Reagan was president. Mr. Macaroni Mouth, I used to call him: I don't remember why. Kathi had a special salute whenever his dour face appeared on TV.

    "Ba fungul," she said, brushing her hand under her chin. She flicked her thumb against her top front teeth, shot a middle finger into the air, pretended to spit. "He was an actor, you know. Not even a good one. Westerns. Glorified soap operas."

    My mother hated Ronald Reagan so much that I assumed she knew him intimately--that he was just another of the many in a revolving door of friends she was always complaining had ripped her off. As my mother saw it, the things Reagan was saying about her were getting low-down and personal. What she meant, of course, was her demographic--the single mother on welfare. It seemed every other night there was a special feature on the evening news reviling these women, until they became the fictional antagonist of the straining American economy. Mum took things like this to heart.

    There were plenty of times when Kathi was capable of performing the role of the empowered, hardworking single mother. At Christmas, for example, she would take on a second, sometimes third job as a cashier at the local toy franchise just so she could get her hands on the coveted toy of the season. One year it was a pig-faced doll with a cowlick of orange yarn, which I later abused mercilessly by beating its oversize plastic head against the sidewalk. Kathi had hidden this doll under her register so that when the mad rush was over and the store had sold out there would be one left for me, one that she could pay for on layaway.

    If there was an indulgence that could be purchased, my mother would find the money for it, any extracurricular curiosity I entertained had her whipping out the checkbook so she could pay someone to nurture it. This is how I became a passionate child-dilettante of ballet, photography, oceanography, and conversational French. At some point when I was eight or nine, I connected the notes of a famous classical piece I heard in cartoons to its composer, Beethoven. Kathi was so thrilled she bought me tickets to a children's series at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Every Saturday morning for six weeks, I rode with a troupe of young classical enthusiasts and their parents on a school bus into the city. Knowing she would never be able to wake up in time to drive me to the rendezvous point, Kathi hired a taxi to take me there and paid in advance. When I expressed an interest in computers, she waitressed at a Colonial-themed restaurant that made her wear a bonnet for the Sunday brunch shift. She worked every weekend for two months, long enough to buy me a brand-new Apple IIe, then called in sick one morning and never went back. She worked stints as a bartender, a salesgirl in a tourist attraction presiding over a lobster tank, and a canteen truck driver. This was my favorite of her jobs, though it didn't last long. I enjoyed the endless stock of Kit-Kats and getting to ride in a great big truck with my mum. She did not enjoy getting up before dawn every day. I think the only reason she took that job in the first place was to go boyfriend hunting, but her prince was not to be found at a construction site.

    Kathi was once inspired by an ad on TV to sign up for a course in TV/VCR repair. I remember seeing the thick hardcover textbook open on our coffee table, every single sentence ablaze with my mother's pink highlighter. A razor and a shortened straw lay on a dish nearby. I think she went to the first two classes before quitting. In a pinch...

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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 26, 2012
    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.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2012
    The memoir of the emancipation of a daughter from her drug-dealer, addict mother. Despite the hardships she endured as a child, Ruta demonstrates a deep and loving bond with her mother. Other family members meander in and out of the narrative, but it is Ruta's mom who features the most prominently in these stories of coming-of-age during the 1980s. Marathon movie nights spent tucked in bed counterpoint days of poverty, trash-strewn rooms, drug dealing and her mother high on cocaine, OxyContin or other drugs. "Mum never distinguished between physical and emotional pain," writes the author, "especially when she had a pill that could cure both." Ruta holds nothing back as she realistically and tenderly portrays her childhood in Massachusetts, whether she's writing about school events at her Catholic school, her mother's ascent as a millionaire and subsequent loss of money due to drug use, or the sexual abuse at the hands of a pedophile, one of her mother's friends. Ruta also delves into her own drug and alcohol abuse, her desire to make something of herself and how she crawled back into society: "I used to be a miserable, spiritless, insecure egomaniac who smelled like whiskey. Now I am a well-intentioned, sometimes volatile, even more insecure egomaniac who smells like coffee." It is this kind of exposure, and the use of dark humor and explicit language, that makes the book so intriguing, and Ruta shows how a strong maternal bond at an early age can lead to forgiveness regardless of the circumstances. A sharp portrayal of recovery from a lifetime of pitfalls and the love that held it all together.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2012

    Billed dramatically as the debut of a prodigy--Ruta was finalist for the Keene Prize of the University of Texas at Austin, where she received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers--this memoir assays the author's rise from a particularly tough childhood. Her mother was a drug dealer and user, and Ruta had to break from her to survive. An in-house favorite being compared to Mary Karr's The Liar's Club and Jeanette Walls's The Glass Castle.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2013
    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.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • The New York Times Book Review

    "A luminous, layered accomplishment."

  • Booklist "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 "Exceedingly powerful."
  • Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter "Domenica Ruta is a real and excellent writer who has language by the throat. She writes with big beauty and drives her story with huge humanism, empathy, and humor."
  • Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story "Difficult childhoods are plentiful, the talent to transform adversity into art 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, author of Enchantments "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, author of Where the God of Love Hangs Out "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."
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