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.
4 out of 5 stars
Fiction Ruined My Family is more than a memoir, to me. It’s more than comedy or tragedy. I’m going to go so far as to say that Jeanne Darst is the female David Sedaris. Her story-telling is a bit different, true, but her voice is much the same. She’s charming and likeable, yet blunt and vulgar at times. Which meant, of course, that I loved this book!
As a writer who never seems to write, I could really appreciate Jeanne’s loving, yet frusrated, description of her writer father. His love of good books and ‘the story’ behind everything is something I could relate to. In fact, his willingness to work for his dream, regardless of cost, was something I admired. Yet, nothing more than a few articles ever really materialized for the man.
Then Darst shows the true story of how the starving artist lifestyle affects a family. The romance of a creative existence dwindles with each painful retelling of poverty and, at times, despair.
Jeanne Darst’s parents both grew up comfortably. Her mother grew up well-off, and expected a similar lifestyle as an adult. The fact that her father’s writing career never flourished could not put a damper on her mother’s desire to live the lavish lifestyle, to which she seemed entitled. When Darst’s father decided it was time to uproot the family from St. Louis and move them to a ‘farm’ that in reality ended up being more like a commune where artists went to languish. Her father’s intention was to write his big break-out novel. Then the family would move back to St. Louis and go back to the life they’d always known.
Not only did they never return to St. Louis, but the lifestyle they once knew was never to return. When grandmother (Nonnie) died, Jeanne’s mother inherited some money to keep hersel and the girls afloat, but also seemed to inherit a new personality. One that apparently drank more, cried more, and smiled less. Broke and unsuccessful at his attemp to write a novel, Jeanne’s father took a job at CBS, but never really got his act together enough to write more.
As Jeanne Darst takes us on her life’s journey, she unabashedly shares her stories of partying, careless attempts at jobs, and increasingly, drinking like her mother.
Darst navigates her life, eventually figuring out how to be herself and be successful at the same time. The wild ride to get there is definitely worth a read.
There were a few quirks that I found mildly distracting. Some sentences seemed to fragment in ways that weren’t intuitive to me. In places, the wording seemed either forced or awkward. And sometimes there’s a feel of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ that seems to come out of nowhere. None of those things take away from the overall goodness of the story, however.
I recommend this book. It’s worth a read and is good for a few laughs. Darst is funny and sympathetic and on her way up.
This book gets 4 out of 5 stars.