Domenica Ruta grew up outside Boston as the brainy misfit daughter of a loud, buxom, peroxide-blonde Italian mother. A vain and mercurial “narcotic omnivore,” her mom loved and hated her only daughter with equal ferocity. Their home was full of contradictions. As a kid, Ruta was given OxyContin for headaches. Her mom worked extra jobs to pay for Ruta’s dance lessons, but refused to acknowledge that her daughter was being molested. As a teenager, Ruta was pushed toward both higher education and teen pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, she eventually began her own spiral into addiction. “Denial and the desire to self-destruct are elemental cousins,” she writes; “mining one yields the other in equal proportion.”
With or Without You is valiant and heartbreaking. Though Ruta’s life has been traumatic, her narrative lacks any over-the-top melodrama, and finds its strength in restraint.
By Kathleen Yale