Book Review: Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst
Author: Jeanne Darst
Publisher: Riverhead Books (div. of Penguin)
Release Date: September 29, 2011
Rating: 3 Bookmarks
Natalie’s 1-Sentence Synopsis: The youngest of four daughters born into a family with a storied past, Jeanne Darst finds herself battling nature AND nurture with her wit and tenacity.
Memoirs–family memoirs in particular–are one of my favorite genres, but my love of them has nothing to do with schadenfreude–it’s more about me breathing a sigh of relief that other people also contend with varying degrees of familial politics or dysfunction.
Jeanne Darst’s grandparents on both sides were moneyed and/or pillars of the community. Her parents spent their lives attempting to live up to their respective birthrights, dragging their daughters along for the bumpy ride.
As her father chased his dream of penning the “Great American Novel”, he moved the entire family from St. Louis to Long Island, and her mother drank away stress and memories of her high society upbringing. On Long Island, things did not go as planned and Jeanne’s father is forced to move them inland–to the bedroom community of Westchester, NY–and take a conventional job.
As the memoir progresses, Jeanne strikes out on her own and struggles to reconcile the fact she has inherited the two things that brought her parents the most agony: Her father’s need to write, and her mother’s need to drink. The combination leads to years of self-destructive behavior before Jeanne comes to understand that she’s not fated to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
Throughout the novel, I found Jeanne’s father intriguing. His attitude, bon mots, and life lessons were highly amusing. His esoteric literary knowledge and willingness to strike up conversations with strangers might have had me cringing if I was his daughter, but from a distance, it was all very quirky and entertaining. At the same time, I found almost every scene with the father tinged with sadness at the futility of it all.
I saw him [Dad] as a tragic hero. Like all tragic characters, he was trying to do the impossible — write novels, sell novels, make money, keep the drinking under control, get the cracked wife some help, take care of four kids. Like all tragic heroes he had a fundamental lack of self-awareness. Tragic characters don’t go to therapy, read self-help, do juice fasts or see psychics. They go blind, they’re banished from the kingdom, they hear ghosts. But they are good, noble in their pursuits, they just make bad decisions, have errors in judgment. He became increasingly saddening, if that’s a correct term. Some people are maddening, Dad was saddening. –Jeanne Darst, Fiction Ruined My Family
Fiction Ruined My Family kept me entertained but left me feeling a bit melancholy. Darst’s writing is solid and peppered with laugh-0ut-loud moments. It does contain some colorful language and situations if you mind that sort of thing. I plan to share this memoir with my mom so we can compare notes on the family dynamic and the impact that parents and genetics have on their offspring. It promises to be a lively conversation.