The youngest of four daughters in an old, celebrated St. Louis family of prominent journalists and politicians on one side, debutante balls and equestrian trophies on the other, Jeanne Darst grew up hearing stories of past grandeur. And as a young girl, the message she internalized was clear: while things might be a bit tight for us right now, it's only temporary. Soon her father would sell the Great American Novel and reclaim the family's former glory.
The family uproots and moves from St. Louis to New York. Jeanne's father writes one novel, and then another, which don't find publishers. This, combined with her mother's burgeoning alcoholism -- nightly booze- fueled weepathons reminiscing about her fancy childhood -- lead to financial disaster and divorce. And as Jeanne becomes an adult, she is horrified to discover that she is not only a drinker like her mother, but a writer like her father.
I feel like I’ve read a lot of books this year about weird (or abusive) families and the offspring who writes about them, and while I think I’ve enjoyed all those books they also make me really sad at the end. I don’t LIKE it when families are abusive, or weird in ways that seriously mess up their offspring, and so normally I end each weird family book thinking I’ll never read another one ever again so THERE.
But then a new weird family books shows up at my doorstep and I think that maybe this weird family book will be the book that won’t break my heart. Shouldn’t I give it a chance? Just to see. And so I do, and I did, with Fiction Ruined My Family. And huzzah! It didn’t break my little reader heart. I actually was happy at the end of it. Surprise!
So, what makes Fiction Ruined My Family different from the other weird family books? Well, first, the weird family part wasn’t ever presented as something horrifically traumatic. Jeanne Darst’s childhood was in the 70’s, and compared to some other 70’s childhoods her’s seemed relatively normal (compared to other 70’s childhoods). The weird stuff was weird, but it wasn’t necessarily weird in a really bad way, you know?1
Second, though JD has a weird family and has had a weird life growing up, she didn’t come off as being as cynical or bitter as some other weird family survivor offspring have come across as. You can tell she really loves her parents, warts and all, and that they didn’t completely mess her up beyond all belief. The saddest parts are about what her parents do to themselves, really.
Third, Fiction Ruined My Family is hilarious, and not necessarily in a black humor kind of way. You know David Sedaris’ early books? That’s what Fiction Ruined My Family reminds me of. It’s FUNNY.
So, basically, if you’re like me and you both love and hate to read weird family books because of what they do to you, you’d probably like Fiction Ruined My Family. It’s a weird family story, but it’s not depressing like some other ones. It’s funny, it’s kind of sweet in parts, and it didn’t make me cry at the end. Huzzah!
Read: October 26, 2011
- Although there are some childhood incidents mentioned later in the book, during JD’s adult stories, that DO make it seem that some things were really bad. But they weren’t mentioned in JD’s childhood stories? I don’t know; that part was confusing. It did feel sometimes that JD left a lot of things out. ↩