[Note: Due to a website migration at my day job, some content that I wrote for a local bookstore chain was unpublished, so I’m republishing it here. I wrote reviews to sell books, so I may have sugar coated some things, but my basic feelings are represented.]
In Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst isn’t posing, bragging or begging. She fully experiences the life of an artist and plies her wares in private homes or working barns or legitimate theater. She tells her story without embellishment, though she admits that perhaps not all the details are entirely true either. She doesn’t need our approval, though she has it (or at least the book does).
The book could easily have been titled Fitzgerald Ruined My Family as he is the ever-present character sharing the Darst family values of writing, alcohol and dysfunctional family relationships. As the youngest of four daughters in a family past its glory days, Darst heard stories of her grandparents’ lives as writers and local muckety mucks. She watches her father struggle with a devotion to writing that competes with family obligations, while her alcoholic mother reminisces about her fancy childhood. Darst feels drawn to writing (and boozing) from an early age, knowing the writing life is hard but perhaps not this hard for this long. From humiliating day jobs that had her riding the New York City subway topless, to living in an apartment with no bathroom, to a suspicion that she puts everything after writing, Darst never forgets that this life is her choice and a questionable one. Jeanne eventually gets sober and sets out to discover if a person can have the writing without the ruin, if it’s possible to be sober and creative, ambitious and happy.
Unlike a hipster playing at poverty, Darst doesn’t have a direct line to daddy’s wallet. Like poor families of noble blood around the world, Darst’s heritage is as much a help as a hindrance. She has all the tools to pull herself out of the mire she put herself into and doesn’t experience the hopeless abject poverty that many in this country experience. In that way, this book could be read as a “poor little rich girl” memoir, but it doesn’t. Darst takes full responsibility for her choices and she lays bare without apology or regret the consequences of each decision — from urinating in her bed to pooping in a shopping bag. You don’t have to approve or disapprove; these are just her facts. In this way, the reader can hold their nose against the offending behavior but still like Darst.