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Fiction Ruined My Family [Paperback]

Jeanne Darst

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Book Description

Nov. 6 2012

Augusten Burroughs meets Mary Karr: a deeply funny and wickedly entertaining family memoir

The youngest of four daughters in an old, celebrated St. Louis family of prominent journalists and politicians on one side, debutantes and equestrians on the other, Jeanne Darst grew up hearing stories of past grandeur. And the message she internalized as a young girl 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 Darsts uproot themselves and move 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.

At first, and for years, she embraces both activities—living in an apartment with no bathroom, stealing food from her babysitting gigs, and raising rent money by riding the subway topless and performing a one-woman show in her living room. Until gradually she realizes that this life has not been thrust on her in some handing-down-of-the-writing-mantle-way. She has chosen it; and until she can stop putting drinking and writing ahead of everything else, it’s a questionable choice. “For a long time I was worried about becoming my father,” she writes. “Then I was worried about becoming my mother. Now I was worried about becoming myself.”

Ultimately, Darst sets out to discover whether a person can have the writing without the ruin, whether it’s possible to be both sober and creative, ambitious and happy, a professional author and a parent. Filled with brilliantly flawed, idiosyncratic characters and punctuated by Darst’s irreverent eye for absurdity, Fiction Ruined My Family is a lovingly told, wickedly funny portrait of an unconventional life.
 


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (Nov. 6 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594486174
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594486173
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,086,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Beautifully paced . . . heartbreaking and hilarious."—USA Today 

"Fiction Ruined My Family reads like a script for performance art, a rapid stand-up routine, careless and wisecracky, signaling moments for the audience to respond to a punch line by clapping. The tinkle of glasses subsides; the performer makes a grimace, takes a bow, goes on. Yet genuine pain is explored - for the dangerous ambitions of fame and achievement and the really dangerous distractions of carelessness with loved ones."—The San Francisco Chronicle 

"[A] winningly snarky memoir."—The New York Times 

"The girl's got flair."—Entertainment Weekly 

"Jeanne Darst's memoir about growing up in a hard-drinking family with big literary dreams is hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring."—Marie Claire 

"In her memoir Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst plunges into the story of her delusional family with wicked wit and fearlessness."—Redbook 

"High fives to Jeanne Darst for Fiction Ruined My Family, her tale of surviving an alkie blue-blood mom, a hard-drinking failed-writer dad, and her own inebriated performer/playwright/crummy-job dysfunction to write this seriously comic tell-all about her entanglements, with family, friend, and-of course-her bodacious self."—Elle 


Fiction Ruined My Family had me laughing out loud, which I almost never do, with one jaw-dropping scene after another. On nearly every page there’s some sentence that's so perfect, in an old-school Oscar Wilde/Dorothy Parker sort of way, that it made everything I've ever written or said seem like dull, drunken mumbling.” – Ira Glass, host of This American Life
 
“Jeanne Darst’s memoir unfolds like a Eugene O’Neill play, with all the boozing and the weeping and the exclamatory self-pity. Only it’s also very funny, and it has a happy ending (more or less). Snap this book up.”—Tad Friend, author of Cheerful Money
 
“As Tolstoy might have said if he'd survived the 1970s, happy families are all alike but every narcissistic parent is narcissistic in his or her own way. Jeanne Darst tells a story not only of family neuroses, artistic delusions and thwarted dreams but also of the nuances of social class, the tension between domesticity and bohemenianism, and the tragicomedy that comes from faking it but never quite making it. All my favorite themes!  I also laughed out loud more times than I can count.”—Meghan Daum, author of My Misspent Youth and Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House
 
“Jeanne Darst is funnier than a blotto WASP in a Lily Pulitzer wheelchair.”—Wendy Burden, author of Dead End Gene Pool 
 
“In the tradition of the Mitford sisters' chronicles (but minus Hitler), Fiction Ruined My Family  is both a very funny tragedy and a very sad comedy.”—Patricia Marx, author of Him Her Him Again and the End of Him
 
“Dazzlingly funny, gut wrenching and infested with writing that will absolutely floor you. Fiction Ruined My Family has ruined me—how will I ever be able to use those adjectives again and mean them as much as I do now?”—Sloane Crosley, author of How Did You Get This Number
 
“Jeanne Darst manages to evoke humor and despair in a single sentence. I found myself rooting so hard for her. Fiction Ruined My Family is a great testament to surviving and overcoming wacky parents. A wonderful book.” – Julie Klam, author of You Had Me at Woof
 
 
 
 

About the Author

Jeanne Darst is a writer/performer who has written for The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, and performed her solo plays in bars, barns, and living rooms across the country. An excerpt from this book on aired on This American Life. She lives in Los Angeles.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OMG Friggin Hilarious!!!!! Oct. 9 2011
By AudreyLM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I downloaded this book from Audible, read by the author. Not always a great thing when an author reads her own memoir, but a HUGE advantage when you're Jeanne Darst (of whom I'd never heard before Janet Maslin's NYTimes review). So I'm walking around with my iPod listening and cackling and sometimes helplessly gasping with laughter (husband watching wide-eyed--I am usually a pretty tough crowd). LOL has become a cliche but seriously I was LOLing all over the place (in my car, on my bike, throughout the home) This book is HILARIOUS, touching, poignant, inspiring etc but mostly HILARIOUS. I love memoirs and especially those by smart independent women who've had a spot of bother here and there in their lives . . . I've listened to or read them all, devouring them as they appear. But this is the best. By far. I don't envy Jeanne her home life, the years of having to parent her parents (and her therapist at one point). But I hugely admire her honesty, her wit, her unsparing clear focus on her own actions. And damn she is funny. The section on ahem crabs . . . words fail. Well they fail me, they do not fail this writer. Not a false note. Totally recommend.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful deadpan humor Oct. 7 2011
By David Paulson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am complete stranger to the writer and have nothing to gain or lose by writing this review, other than sharing something that I enjoyed.

I saw Ms Darst read from her book at BookCourt in Brooklyn, and got a sense of her "scrappy" personality and deadpan humor. I picked up the book right after that and finished it in two evenings.

I think this book is one of the best in the genre of humorous memoir, right up there with works by Sara Barron, Wendy Burden, and Haven Kimmel. Jeanne has some great characters to work with, particularly her father. One of the key insights is "Like all tragic heroes he has a fundamental lack of self-awareness." She also makes herself the target of much of the humor. She realizes that she inherited some of the traits of both her mother and her father, and is constantly trying to prove that "I am not an id-i-ot."

Let me give one example of a comical moment. Her sister Julia, her mother, and Jeanne are speaking.
Mother: "Oh for God's sake, Jeanne, you have lice?"
"Yes, but they're on our pubes," Julia said.
Mother: "This is what you get for going to a state school. Jeanne, why you couldn't get into somewhere decent I'll never understand. You're so bright."

Besides the humor, I like the writer's unsentimental exploration of her emotions about the decline of her parents, and her own struggle as a starving artist.

I highly recommend this book to other readers. Please buy it so she can keep writing and making people laugh.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Funny, the Ribald, and the Poignant Sept. 5 2012
By Diane B. Wilkes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jeanne Darst has written a memoir for anyone who loves humor, insight, recovery, literature and/or writing. The fourth daughter of a writer-son from a journalistic family and a former horsy debutante, Darst is most assuredly not an idiote. Her father has the talent to be a great writer and the dreams to achieve it--but after two unpublished novels, he wastes his brilliance on researching F. Scott Fitzgerald for the rest of his life. Mom moves from being a depressive to a depressive alcoholic. Jeanne has to determine which family traditions to adopt and which to transcend.

Doesn't that sound gloomy? FICTION RUINED MY FAMILY is anything but. It is hysterically funny: "Your mother's not an alcoholic, she just thinks every night is New Year's Eve." And, "I have bad judgment, or no judgment. Like Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN, I pet things too hard and then hide the evidence." It is ribald--the book includes a lengthy segment on how Jeanne gets and shares a dose of crabs (it is quoted in other reviews, so I shall not reiterate).

And oh, it is poignant: "I can't help remembering this saying of hers, because not only did her life end not well, it didn't end badly. It ended horrifically, one of the worse endings I've ever seen to a life. And when this happens, when this happens to your mother, what do you remember? Which Mom? Which morning? Which nights? What do you leave and what do you take with you? Clearly I'm not here looking for day-count coins from AA. But is there something here that will work for me, that will help me find I don't know what? She no longer has to be or not be anything to anyone. She didn't get sober. She wasn't the mom I wanted her to be. I wanted her to fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. But she didn't, obviously. And it was over. So then why was I scanning the joint like it was my own brain: deducing the love, the anger, the confusion, looking for her, in death, to be something I could live with? We were here to clean out her apartment, to get rid of things. But it seemed I was actually here to acquire a mother."

This is a great memoir, reminding me in some ways of LIT by Mary Karr, yet radiating a completely unique voice. I look forward to reading more of Darst, or better yet, seeing her play, SALLY ON THE MOUNT: "She becomes a sex-worker in the meatpacking district but decides, amid all the art world craziness of the 80's in New York, that what she does is actually art...She adapts Orwell's ANIMAL FARM into a sexual act (can't use the term she uses because of Amazon restrictions) and collaborates with a man who calls himself Ken Burn on a seventeen-part PBS series called THE AMERICAN ANUS." Etc.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars None Oct. 22 2011
By R. Paige Pyron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
If a biographer, especially an autobiographer, can be honest and frank, then their book gets a head start. Ms. Darst is fresh and real. I think that one of the reasons that her humor works so well in this book is because she remains unafraid of revealing too many embarassing anecdotes. She didn't spare us the interesting and vulgar details surrounding her episodes of poverty. Her wit and humor remind me of Nora Ephron sans ostentatious name-dropping.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Is the author actually a 14-year-old boy? Dec 19 2012
By KathleenCo13 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Love the title, the blurb, the cover art. Wanted to love the book. Author lost me after third (gratuitous) mention of girl-on-girl oral sex, description of a bowel movement in a doubled plastic bag and a long chapter about a tenacious case of pubic lice. Do I get the desperation around all of this? Sure. But Darst tried too hard, and "ruined this fiction" for me.

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