Friday, September 23, 2011

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst — 320 pgs

Buy the BookIn this provocative and fast paced memoir, Jeanne Darst explores the ups and downs of being a member of a family of defunct writers, and explains how this has shaped her life as well as her ambitions. As a child growing up, Jeanne always knew that many of her relatives hailing from her father’s side of the family were authors of some kind or another. Whether journalists, biographers or fiction writers, the people in her family took reading and writing very seriously. But where Jeanne really throws her focus is on the life of her father, a man who has been laboring over his masterwork on F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald for decades. With zany insights and an affable style, Jeanne tells the stories of her father’s love of words and wordsmithing, his utter inability to make this type of life work for him, and of her mother’s eventual spiral into the depths of alcoholism. Both bizarrely fascinating and humorously adept, Fiction Ruined My Family is Jeanne’s attempt to explain her family’s ever puzzling contortions through their literary creations, to her eventual decision to become an author and playwright herself. Through it all she exposes the sacrifices and stumbling blocks she faces while trying to emulate the father she loves but secretly resents at times. Startlingly funny and at times emotionally piercing, Darst takes her readers along for the ride as she explores the lightness and darkness that encompasses a family of authors both famous and obscure.

I’ve come to realize that I am a memoir lover. I love all types and flavors of memoir, and some of the best I’ve read have been those that focus on normal people who have extraordinary tales to tell. This was one of those tales. Though at time Jeanne could slip into vulgarity, most of her tale was simply too strange and involving to ignore. There was a feeling of sharing her confusion at her insistence on living a life that had proved very disastrous to those closest to her, and a sense that her drive to live this type of life almost bordered on a compulsion at times.

This book was very tightly balanced between levity and sorrow. Though there were pages and pages of funny outtakes from Jeanne’s life, she would occasionally throw in a scene that would just floor me with a humble sorrow for what living this type of life had done to the members of her family. It was these glimpses into the profound starkness of living a struggling author’s life that really made an impression on me. Both Jeanne and her father lived a hand-to-mouth existence most of the time, and both found themselves profoundly suffering in search of their art. This led to many uncomfortable recriminations from other members of the family. Jeanne’s mother had an especially hard time with her husband’s career and found herself drowning her unhappiness and disappointment in alcohol. The book was filled with an extensive array of amusing anecdotes, there is no mistaking that, but overall I got the impression that living this type of life could be extremely demanding and difficult.

Jeanne’s involvement with her father and his work really became the central focus of this book. As their relationship matured over time, it was Jeanne’s reflections on the struggles of his life and her fear that she would end up following in his footsteps that really drove the scope and narrative of this memoir. The angst she felt in having to deny herself a life in literature was compelling and even intensely moving at times, and one could see that these mental conundrums were painful for her to live through. I think the sections about how her father’s career had decimated her mother’s life were the most moving and sad parts in what was to be a very pithy but ultimately sobering book. Jeanne tells it all without censoring, and at times her honesty and candor about the life she was living made me a bit uncomfortable. But at its roots, this was a book about the alternating passion and reluctance that one person can feel about their life’s ambition to become an author.

I think this book would be of great interest to anyone who nurses a spark of creativity in their heart, and would probably make a lot of people understand both the pros and cons of letting go and following their dreams to their eventual fulfillment. It was at times a distressing read, but there was a lot to recommend it as well. It certainly revealed the intricacies of a kind of life I’ve long been curious about, and I think those readers who take a chance on this book might be surprised at how it all works out. A very intense but thought provoking read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

22 comments:

Jenny said...

Being a writer could be so fun but it wouldn't always be that practical. I had wondered how this book would be but glad to see you liked it! For some reason I'm not typically drawn to memoirs, but I am curious about this one!

TheBookGirl said...

I don't read alot of memoirs, but when I do they are pretty much always written by "ordinary" people as opposed to the celebrity ones.
There is something about the sound of this book that reminds me of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, although I'm not really sure why...maybe the struggling academic and the alcoholic wife, and the overarching sadness.

I'm curious as to what the father ever did publish successfully?

Zibilee said...

Book Girl,

He did end up writing a few small journalistic pieces, but all his other work was rejected. As far as I know, he is still working on his book about the Fitzgeralds, which is something like 15 or 20 years in the making, if I am remembering correctly.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I usually avoid memoirs, and I'm not sure why because if you told the same story and called it a novel you would't know the difference! But I just finished The Orchard by Theresa Weir and just loved it, so maybe I'll be more accepting of memoirs in the future! :--)

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I'm not really a memoir person, but I think I just haven't found this right one. Occasionally I find one that is perfect for me. Great review!

Kailana said...

This sounds interesting. I have never heard of the book before, but I think I am going to check it out.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'd probably find this part fascinating and part frustrating. Following your dream is one thing, but when it pulls apart the family, it becomes something else!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I really enjoy personal (NOT celebrity!) memoir, too. And, a memoir about a family of writers is the icing on the cake.

The title may say it all, and I hope that the author has some resolution to the way her family has been pulled apart.

bermudaonion said...

I had no idea this is a memoir! I'll have to check it out since I am a memoir junkie.

Tracy said...

I've always wondered what living in a family of writers would be like - mainly because I imagine authors to be real loners - it seems like it would be such a solitary activity.

I'm not into memoirs, though I enjoy some biographies, but this one sounds like it might be worth reading.

Aths said...

I love reading memoirs too, and this sounds right up my alley! I love the diversity in this book, strange thing to say about a memoir. I'm glad to hear that this one has just the right balance between serious and light themes. I'm going to check it out~

Jenners said...

I love memoirs and this sounds like a good one ... though I doubt it will do anything to nurture my aspirations to be a writer.

Marie said...

I think I would probably love this. I don't read a ton of memoirs but this really appeals to me. I think it sounds great!

Amy said...

I have been meaning to look up this book after reading a review of it on another blog. I think it sounds interesting, funny, a little bizarre (which is good!) and more. I love that the Jeanne Darst became an author despite the struggles she saw her father and the other authors in her family went through.

I enjoy memoirs too and want to read more of them. I think i like the 'real life' aspect combined with the creativity.

I'm glad you enjoyed this book!

Jenny said...

I love memoirs too, and especially memoirs about families. I'm so interesting to see what other people's families are like, because they are all so different. I worry about their families being hurt by what they've written, but I don't worry about that as much as I enjoy seeing what other people's families are like.

Vasilly said...

This sounds like a really good memoir. I've heard of a generation or two of writers but never a whole side that took up the occupation.

irisonbooks said...

I am always hesitant to pick up a memoir, but your description makes this sound interesting. Somehow the "regular people with extraordinary stories" line makes me want to rethink my aversion to memoirs.

I am sorry to hear the father never ended up publishing the book he has been working on for so long yet. There is something very tragic about that, I think. Although, I guess if he is still working on it, he perhaps enjoys the work more than the being-published bit?

Nymeth said...

I really love the sound of this. And like Iris, I find the father's story so sad.

Lisa said...

It's always interesting to me to watch children follow in the footsteps of their parents when the path that their parents have chosen has made life so difficult. This definitely sounds like one I'd love.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Wow this looks REALLy interesting. After reading Domestic Violets, it would be interesting to read sort of the nonfictional side of this sort of thing. Thanks for the great review!

Darlene said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one Heather. I've really started to enjoy memoirs lately and I never did before. Many that I've read lately have been quite good.

nomadreader said...

I'm not as much of a memoir lover as you are, but this one does sound interesting, as I'm so interested in writing as a craft. I may have to look for this one!

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