I loved the premise of Fiction Ruined My Family when I first came across it: a memoir about a woman born and bred into the writing world. Fabulous, I thought, especially when I saw Darst’s sense of the absurd, her brilliance, and her “wickedly funny” prose touted in the main Amazon review.
Then I read it. Sigh, she said.
Jeanne Darst is the youngest daughter of the latest in a long line of writers and journalists on one side, and of old money on the other. Her father, attempting to find his own place in the family business, dragged his family through hell and back in his attempts to write the Great American Novel – without success. Jeanne’s mother was not so amused with this, as it meant she (and their four daughters) got hauled from location to location – and into increasingly dire financial straits – in the process. Not exactly the life she was used to, coming from St. Louis’ equivalent of royalty, replete with debutante balls, national equestrienne titles, and mansions…
As Jeanne and her sisters grow up, they struggle to decide how to deal with their father’s obsession (and concomitant alcoholism) and their mother’s depression (and concomitant alcoholism). Somewhere along the way, Jeanne decides she too is going to be a writer – and as different from her parents as possible – and her attempts to pave her own way in the literary world are full of their own flavors of bizarre-ity (yes, I made that word up) and adventure.
Fiction Ruined My Family is a poor little rich girl’s story about a poor little poor girl. It is full of tragedy largely unleavened by comedy. Despite all of the things Jeanne seemed to say she wanted to avoid, she spent much of her life spiraling into an amalgamation of her two parents. If ever there was a case to be made for the genetic components of alcoholism and depression, this is that case.
I struggled with every page I read. Darst’s writing style is fine, I just could not find any way to put myself in the shoes of 99% of the characters in the book, and that simply made it impossible for me to enjoy. Maybe that’s a product of my relatively privileged life or maybe it’s just a product of my taste in stories. Either way, I am sorry to say that this book did not deliver on what I expected.
A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.