With or Without You : A Memoir

with or withoutWith or Without You arrived this week, the next book in my Indiespensables subscription (complete with my extra gifts!  Just like Christmas all over again!).  Most of what I’ve been reading lately has been pretty light – this memoir definitely is not.  This has been a hard review for me to sit down and write, although thoughts of the book fill my head, getting them out in some organized fashion has not been simple.

Nikki (the author’s nickname) grows up in a trash-filled rundown house with her wild, unpredictable, and drug-addled mother, Kathi, in Danvers, Massachusetts, north of Boston.  The memoir travels through Nikki’s childhood and early adulthood, jumping around chronologically, and focuses largely on her relationship with her mother and her own struggles with addiction.

While the story is dark and oftentimes disturbing – Kathi provides Nikki with Oxycotin for her headaches at a young age, leaves her with a known pedophile, encourages her to get pregnant in high school, and gives her high-quality pot for Christmas – it is not as depressing as it sounds.  Ruta’s telling of her story layers caustic humor with love and the beginnings of forgiveness.  There are times when Kathi does try to be a good mother, although her methods may be unconventional – selling coke to pay for Nikki’s schooling, working three jobs to buy her outlandish Christmas gifts, doing whatever is necessary to ensure Nikki can go to dance lessons, French lessons, and the symphony.

In spite of the horrors Kathi subjects her daughter to, there are moments of affection and love and spunkiness and don’t-mess-with-us attitude that make you smile, laugh, and actually hope for Kathi’s redemption, and for her own sake, not just for Nikki’s.  As Nikki struggles with recovering from her own addiction she ultimately needs to cut her mother out of her life in a quest for sobriety and sanity.

Ultimately, this memoir is about a complicated mother-daughter relationship, filled with codependency, anger, hate, and love.  Ruta indicates that this book is largely a letter to her mother and the dedication heartbreakingly reads simply “To Her”.  The ending is real, not fiction, so there is no tidy resolution, just an ongoing struggle and the possibility of hope.

Title: With or Without You 
Author: Domenica Ruta
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir
Pages: 224
Publication: Spiegel & Grau, February 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club

ImageI really need to start keeping a pad of paper next to me when I read.  It seems that whenever I finish a book there is always something I want to go back to, some quote or reference or thought, but it can be hard to find or the book is due back at the library or I am already on to the next book, and the thought is lost.  Why don’t I just keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I read?  I’m not sure.  I think it feels too much like work, like reading a book for some college course where I will need to be ready to answer questions later.  Taking notes in the middle of reading seems to somehow distract from the total absorption that I have come to know and love and associate with books.  And then there’s the extra paraphernalia required, the notebook, the pen, a place to set them down, the awkwardness of reaching for them and balancing them on my lap while not losing my place. I know, I know, taking notes while reading is much easier to do with e-books.  But while I gratefully own a Nook Tablet, and use it extensively whenever I travel, all of my reasons for preferring the real thing are a subject for another day and another rant…

The End of Your Life Book Club is due back at the library, tomorrow, but I am going to have to take the time today to skim back through it and capture a few things.  Mostly, all of the titles of the wonderful books that I want to add to my “to read” list (which is already impossibly long, not to mention my “to re-read list!).  The book tells the true story of the author and his mother and the relationship that they share through books.  His mother, Mary Anne, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and for the time they have remaining, they share books, their thoughts on books, and how they relate to life in the midst of chemotherapy appointments and hospice care.  Their conversations cover a wide-range of topics, both global and intensely personal, giving them the opportunity to know and understand one another more fully.

The ending is no surprise, and leaves you wishing you had been given the opportunity to know this amazing woman. She believed that “books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books… is the grandest entertainment, and is also how you take part in the human conversation…  books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others… that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died”.  I could not agree more.

I cannot count the number of times I have reached for the phone to call Dottie, my dear friend and mother-in-law, about tell her about something, anything, a book, a day at the library, something the kids have done, only to remember that she is gone.  And like the author, many times I tell her anyway…

Now back to the book to add to my “to read” list!

    Title: The End of Your Life Book Club
    Author: Will Schwalbe
    Genre: Non-Fiction
    Pages: 326
    Publication: Knopf, October 2012