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With or Without You

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  5,214 Ratings  ·  710 Reviews
Domenica Ruta grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, in a ramshackle, rundown, trash-filled house with her mother, a drug dealer and user who raised Domenica on a steady diet of Oxycontin. Growing up, Domenica knew she didn't fit in-she was far smarter and worse dressed than everyone else she knew, and she clearly had the most flamboyant mother of anyone in town-but she found ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Random House
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Sarah While my family is not Italian, I did grow up with a single mother who was an alcoholic and drug addict with a circulating door of random men. Many of…moreWhile my family is not Italian, I did grow up with a single mother who was an alcoholic and drug addict with a circulating door of random men. Many of my childhood friends also had similar homes. While my situation was never quite as bad as Ruta's (more overall neglect than the highs and lows that Kathi had), I don't find the tales far-fetched at all. Two of my friends had a mother who sounds fairly similar to Kathi, and I know of instances in which she made them (her prepubescent daughters) dance and strip for some of her male friends. They both grew up to have problems with addiction and unhealthy relationships with men. Combine drug use/addiction with what sounds very much like bipolar disorder (in Kathi's case), and you never know what could happen. (less)

Community Reviews

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Jennifer
Feb 24, 2013 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, arc, 2013-books
so, i think there's a fine line to the art of a good memoir. especially from a writer who is not very well-known. on one side: a writer who has had experiences that suck and emerges triumphant (or some reasonable facsimile thereof). on the other side: a story driven by ego. rather than just having to get a story out of them, an ego-driven memoir is almost glad in it's 'look how awful this was for me'. 'i win at worst life ever.' and that's tough to read. there's actually a moment in the book whe ...more
La Petite Américaine
Mar 01, 2013 La Petite Américaine rated it it was ok
Shelves: auto-bios-etc, ugh
There's a general rule about memoirs: In order to write a good one, one you have to be famous, have lived in close proximity to someone famous, or have survived something so unbelievable that it's better than fiction (as in, you can't make this shit up). If you're not famous and haven't exactly lived through, say, this or this, then really, you have no authority on anything, and nothing interesting to say.

This is precisely the problem with Domenica Ruta's memoir. She comes from no place of autho
...more
Victoria Weinstein
Mar 07, 2013 Victoria Weinstein rated it liked it
I would classify this as a parasitic memoir where the author isn't a very interesting character at all, but serves up a charismatic abuser for public consumption with no sense of respect for that person's privacy or complexity. Domenica Ruta is a good writer but she has nothing to reveal about herself that isn't intimately connected to, and blamed on, her toxic mother Kathi. The chronology of the book is a mess -- either tell a story in order or chuck that structure out the window! I don't think ...more
Regina
Check out this review and others like it at BadAssBookReviews

Domenica Ruta’s book is a brutally honest portrait of her childhood, her mother, her family and of herself. Although the subject matter is ugly and disturbing, Ruta writes it in such a beautifully and addictive way. I could not put this book down. My home life was the far opposite of Ruta’s, but on the pages of this book I lived her childhood with her. I felt like crying and I did laugh out loud multiple times. Ruta has a gift for ta
...more
Judy
Nov 12, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir


This memoir came into my hands in advance reader's edition form. It will be released in February, 2013. I devoured it in one gulp. It came with high praise from Amy Bloom and Gary Shteyngart. The marketing person compared it favorably to The Glass Castle. All good.

But for at least 50 pages I was underwhelmed. Where was the lyricism of The Glass Castle? Where was the "darkly hilarious" tone? I admit those 50 pages went by in a flash but couldn't say why.

So yes, bad mother on drugs, poverty, crazy
...more
Deborah Bluminberg
May 28, 2013 Deborah Bluminberg rated it it was ok
This book has such great reviews, and I heard the author's interview on NPR, so I was eager to read this book, and now that I have, I can't figure out what all the hoopla is about. The writing is very good, almost lyrical in some places. The story, however, is a very different story. Nikki's mother is an alcoholic and drug addict. They live a totally chaotic, dysfunctional life. The house is a run down shack filled with trash and a steady stream of drug addicts coming and going. Nikki falls into ...more
Julie G
Feb 26, 2013 Julie G rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
It only took a few pages of With or Without You: A Memoir, before I needed to flip back to the beginning, and remind myself that this wasn't fiction.

First, because it is incredibly well-written; far better than any memoir (and some fiction) I've ever read. Last, because it is incredibly awful; the situation, not the book.

One wonders how someone - anyone - could go through what Ruta does and come out sane or sober. Though, for several years, it appears she embraced little of either. Which is not
...more
Meghan
Dec 12, 2012 Meghan rated it did not like it
Although this memoir manages to keep the reader interested, it lacks conviction and reliability.

Perhaps the backlash surrounding James Frey's Million Little Pieces biased me while reading, but Nikki's story just didn't seem to add up. Her excessive drinking and drug use, such that she blacked out and was unaware of her surroundings/action didn't line up with the supposed academic excellence she claimed to achieve. As things such as university enrollment and graduation can be fact-checked but le
...more
Diane Yannick
Apr 07, 2013 Diane Yannick rated it really liked it
Domenica Ruta survived a brutal relationship with her single mother, Kathi. The kind where pot was given as a Christmas present and endless supplies of Oxycontin were shared. The kind where Domenica was encouraged to stay home from school and watch good movies and eat ice cream for breakfast. Kathi was described by her daughter as "a narcotic omnivore" and having a "spiritual autoimmune disease". Pretty accurate descriptions from what she told us.

Her mother paid her tuition to parochial school
...more
Julie Ehlers
Domenica Ruta grew up with an unstable single mother named Kathi who, although she was at times a successful local businesswoman and Harvard Extension student, was also a slacker junkie whose house eventually got condemned and who was so thrilled when Domenica “finally” got high for the first time that she gave her a bag of pot (the “good stuff”) for Christmas every year thereafter (although Kathi herself went in for much harder stuff). She was the kind of mother who said “Would it kill you to s ...more
Maureen Stanton
May 18, 2013 Maureen Stanton rated it it was ok
Sadly, there is little reflection in this book, which is a series of anecdotes and tales and little more. Like Vivian Gornick wisely said, you get no credit for the living. You have to make sense of the experience, and there's little of that work done here, so the book feels insular and small. The craft is spotty, with strong passages but other "ugh" moments, especially at the beginning, with direct address to the reader on p. 5 -- "So what else do you need to know about this woman [her mother] ...more
Christina Josling
Mar 03, 2013 Christina Josling rated it liked it
I want to start off by saying I would recommend this book and I read it every opportunity I could. It was well written and definitely held my attention. That being said, there were problems with the book that I couldn't get past. Ruta's story is very disjointed and she jumps all over the place in describing her history. One moment she's a child, then an adolescent, then back to a child without clear transitions.
I also found that the characters are not fleshed out enough. Even though we know her
...more
Dianne
Domenica Ruta tells the story of her life growing up in a completely dysfunctional family and what personal prices were paid. Having a single mother who was more absorbed in her own life and welfare than Domenica's, having no close friends, living with instabilty, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and a total lack of personal worth, her story is gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, blood pressure raising.

The author has bared her soul, told of her pain, failure, successes and even found humor in the events sh
...more
Taylor Church
Jan 16, 2015 Taylor Church rated it it was amazing
My gracious I am upset. I am upset because I just learned via Wikipedia that this is the first and presently the only book out by Domenica Ruta. I always wait to read up on authors and their bibliographies until after I read their first piece. It is kind of a dessert to a delicious read for me. But oh the disappointment in discovering that I have to wait an unknown amount of time to read any new work by this literary master.

With or Without You was so well written I don't know if I want to give u
...more
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Feb 27, 2013 Lori L (She Treads Softly) rated it really liked it
With or Without You is a powerful, disturbing, honest memoir by Domenica Ruta. Domenica suffered through a trash-strewn squalid childhood with her single mom, Kathi, in Danvers, Massachusetts. Kathi was a drug addict, dealer, and alcoholic. She was unpredictable and unstable. Even though I had an uncorrected proof, please allow me to share how Domenica describes Kathi:

“Mummy wants to show off her boobies right now.” Her hair was almost black, but she insisted on bleaching it Deborah Harry blond
...more
Holly
Aug 08, 2013 Holly rated it it was amazing
I just finished this book and it was one of the most amazing books I've read in a long time. I am a big fan of gripping memoirs like "The Glass Castle" or "A Piece of Cake," but it can be really difficult to find similarly addicting books.

"With or Without You" excels because, first of all, the writing is fabulous. I'm a writer myself, and there were some turns of phrase that were so lyrical and evocative that I was jealous that I didn't come up with them myself.

The most amazing thing about thi
...more
Susanna
Jul 05, 2013 Susanna rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, coming-of-age
I really wanted to love this book, and I was convinced to buy it because of the author's list of accomplishments/recognitions and the blurbs from big authors - plus it was on my list from reading a review, perhaps the glowing review in the New York Times by Margaux Fragoso, who herself wrote a very powerful memoir about child sexual abuse. It was a quick read, but throughout the book I just kept wondering who Ruta knows, to get all that accolades and blurbs with a book like this, and feeling as ...more
Brenda
This memoir is incredibly harsh, cruel and sad. But this disturbing account of Domenica Ruta’s life as she grew from being a youngster with a mother who was a drug addict (and every other addict) to an adult whose mother only got worse instead of better is one of huge struggles, deep depression, hope and grim determination.

Kathi, Domenica’s mother, clearly loved her daughter, whom she called Nikki, with a deep devotion. But she had no idea how to be a ‘good’ mother, and her cure for any of her d
...more
Alessandra Trindle
Apr 08, 2013 Alessandra Trindle rated it really liked it
As a mother, if I ever feel that I have failed my children in some way, I can always console myself with the fact that I am not Kathi Ruta. Domenica Ruta's memoir about her childhood reads like a primer for child abuse and child neglect. She copes with her mother's mercurial moods, which are often fueled by drugs, and she silently endures the predatory advances of "Uncle Vic", knowing that no one in her family will stop his molestation of her.

Despite what is, by all counts, a very unstable upbri
...more
Bonnie
Sep 18, 2012 Bonnie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book through Librarything in return for writing this review, and while I appreciate the free read I assure you the review is wholly honest.

This is a wonderful memoir. I was blown away by the author's grace, honesty, self-awareness, intelligence and skill. The promo materials and cover blurbs compare this to "The Glass Castle", and there are some obvious parallels, but I thought this more closely aligned with books from Mary Karr, Rick Bragg, Heather Kin
...more
Sabrina
Have you ever witnessed a car accident? I mean one that takes place right before your eyes. In your own car you can almost feel the moment of impact. You see the glass falling into your lap. You can taste the adrenaline. Yet, there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening. Especially when you are just an innocent by stander.

Well, that is how I felt from the beginning to the end of this memoir. You know what is going to happen to this mother/daughter duo. Yet there is nothing you can do
...more
Stefani
Apr 07, 2013 Stefani rated it really liked it
Competition for most fucked-up-life is always bittersweet, I suppose. There's one too many memoirs out there that reek of conceited, look-at-me and how fucked up and drug addicted I am, Cat Marnell-style self importance and far too few that don't milk their bad experiences in life for maximum shock value and/or career boosting ability.

I think Domenica Ruta kind of falls somewhere in the middle of all this. She definitely had a shitty life—there's no denying or sugarcoating that fact. Things that
...more
Kats
Jun 08, 2013 Kats rated it really liked it
The memoir of Domenica Ruta, a writer raised in a severely dysfunctional family by a drug-addicted mother, is powerful. I enjoyed it not merely for the raw subject matter, which in my life and work experience I've learned is not terribly uncommon, but more for Domenica's gifts as a writer. I love so many lines, so many passages but this excerpt on page 181-182 is probably my favorite because I found so much truth in it:

"I will not become my mother.
I will not get fat like her. I will not starve
...more
Jacqueline
Mar 07, 2013 Jacqueline rated it it was ok
I typically love a good memoir. In fact, many of the books that have stuck with me the longest have been memoirs. This, however, will probably not stick with me much past today.

In order to write a memoir, you should either a.) be famous for something or b.) have some terribly horrific/inspiring/life-altering/ mind-blowing story to tell. Rutka has neither. I still can't figure out why someone decided her story is any different from the hundreds of kids in my high school, the thousands of people i
...more
Jack Waters
Dec 11, 2013 Jack Waters rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Dysfunctional childhoods bloat Memoir bookshelves; but they cannot be counted on to be well written. Everyone seems to have a story or thirteen within them, and many are tragic; it takes scrupulous artistry to provide payoff using what might seem from a distance like expected sadness, the type of sadness that many of us encounter either directly or indirectly through friends. The kind that frames it in a way that transcends the pain.

One-ups-manship is a very easy trap to fall into, ie “oh, yeah
...more
Eustacia Tan
Mar 01, 2013 Eustacia Tan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
When people say that reading lets you live a thousand lives, I'm pretty sure they're talking about memoirs as well. After all, Domenica Ruta's life is as unlike mine as could be possible, but after reading her memoir, I feel like I've (in some small way), experienced what she felt.

Ms Domenica grew up with Kathi, her insane, drug-addicted mother. Domenica isn't pretty either (so this isn't one of those Cinderella books either), but she does love to read. In her own words, she has a hunger for kno
...more
Claire
A memoir by the brilliant Domenica Ruta who at a very young age realized that words could be the medium of an artist and said (I paraphrase) this is what I will do- this is my medium. Writing is her superpower.

Another reviewer used the word brutal to describe the narrative- yes, this is a brutal telling of a family of characters larger than life. Domenica's mother Kathi is clearly smaht and tahlented- she is also stoned, ripped, wasted and drunk and therefore generally out of her mind. She clea
...more
Steph
Dec 14, 2013 Steph rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Hard to rate. The writing itself was good, flowed well, enjoyable to follow, interesting, and even entertaining for the most part. That said, I didn't like the author. I felt like she was overly dramatic about her mother, like she felt that her life had to be the "worst ever", so either she has no understanding of the hardships inflicted upon humanity or she is an egomaniac. As much as her mother was messed up I felt the the author downplayed some of her mothers finer points and exaggerated the ...more
Suniru
Oct 15, 2012 Suniru rated it really liked it
Recommended to Suniru by: LibraryThing
This is a very well written beautiful book. Most of the memoirs I have read were written a good and safe distance from the period in question. This is the case even more so when the material concerns abuse and/or addiction. “With or Without You » feels raw and alive. The author writes with a minimal amount of distance. It is enough though that I believe she was taking a good sane look at her life. There is no self pity, accusations or (the worst) saintly forgiveness which make these types of mem ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Proof once again that the worst childhoods can produce the most effective memoirs. As with the Glass Castle, such material in the hands of a talented writer provides a story that would be shocking if fictional, but because it is true, is amazing.
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Not quite ready for primetime but good debut 2 9 Jun 27, 2014 07:23PM  
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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.
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“Denial and the desire to self-destruct are elemental cousins; mining one yields the other in equal proportion.” 5 likes
“We’re all ridiculously cute before we move on to solid foods. It’s a trick of evolution. Who would put up with us otherwise?” 1 likes
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