under the covers

Domenica Ruta to Speak at BookPeople

She's going 'With or Without You'

By Jaime deBlanc-Knowles, 11:00AM, Tue. Mar. 5, 2013

Domenica Ruta to Speak at BookPeople

At the midpoint of Domenica Ruta's memoir, With or Without You, Kathi Ruta offers her middle-school-aged daughter an Oxycontin to take the edge of her headache – and then snorts a pill herself “in solidarity.”

Kathi, an entrepreneurial, unstable, and chronically addicted woman, is, by turns, her daughter’s drug dealer, party pal, needy confidante, and worst nightmare. Like the Other Mother in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Kathi offers a sinister bargain: undying loyalty in exchange for her daughter’s sense of self.

With or Without You chronicles Domenica’s adolescence and adulthood as she ponders the worthiness of this transaction. On the one hand, Kathi bolsters her through a lonely and confusing childhood, assuring her of her worthiness and pushing her to apply to elite schools where she can realize her potential. On the other hand, Kathi rampages through life with a blithe disregard for her daughter’s well-being, parenting in a drug-fueled haze, unleashing unpredictable rages, and turning a blind eye when Domenica is molested by a family friend.

Despite the memoir's intense focus on Kathi, it's difficult to really get a grasp on her. There’s a sense that, even as Domenica moves across the country and cuts off communication with her mother, Kathi remains, psychologically, about two inches away. Her erratic behavior and destructive impulses are described in depth, but we don't gain insight into what makes Kathi tick, what demons she herself is fighting.

It's the supporting characters here who really come alive with depth and complexity – Domenica's fiery grandmother, her sweet, self-destructive stepfather. In particular, Domenica paints a discerning and compassionate portrait of her father, Zeke. A distant tyrant when Domenica was a child, Zeke becomes her running buddy and housemate as she struggles with sobriety in adulthood. Their tenuous relationship provides a glimmer of redemption at the end of the book – but it's a redemption threaded with sadness. Conscious of her father’s love for her, Domenica also recognizes the limits of his ability to communicate, and the ways that resentment and affection may be permanently intertwined in their lives.

How is that that we can love and hate our parents in equal measure? How can children long to forgive even the worst violations of trust in their parents? The best moments in Ruta's memoir are when we begin to understand those dichotomies, not in our mind, but in our skin and bones.

Michener Center alumna Domenica Ruta will be speaking and signing copies of With or Without You tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 6, at 7pm, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. Visit the BookPeople website for more information.

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