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Fiction Ruined My Family

Fiction Ruined My Family

by Jeanne Darst
Fiction Ruined My Family

Fiction Ruined My Family

by Jeanne Darst

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Overview

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

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 move from St. Louis to New York, and Jeanne’s father writes one novel, then another, which don’t find publishers. This, combined with her mother’s burgeoning alcoholism, 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— and until she can stop putting drinking and writing ahead of everything else, it’s a questionable choice.

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

ISBN-13: 9781101547847
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/29/2011
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 772,040
File size: 271 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

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 United States. An excerpt from this book aired on This American Life. She lives in Los Angeles.

What People are Saying About This

Julie Klam

“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)

Patricia Marx

“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 )

Wendy Burden

“Jeanne Darst is funnier than a blotto WASP in a Lily Pulitzer wheelchair.”--(Wendy Burden, author of Dead End Gene Pool )

Meghan Daum

"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)

Sloane Crosley

“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)

From the Publisher

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
 
 
 
 

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

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.

 


ABOUT JEANNE DARST

Jeanne Darst is a writer and 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 of this book aired on This American Life. She lives in Los Angeles.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Both Jeanne Darst and her father are committed to being writers, in part, because they can’t imagine being anything else. Is writing a calling or a career? Is her father any less a writer because he’s never published a book?
  • The Darsts didn’t have health insurance, and their “Torino wagon was now so rusted through that you could see the road from a hole in the backseat floor“ (p. 47). Yet they lived in Westchester, and Doris had family heirlooms to sell when money was really tight. Why do you think the Darsts hold on to the trappings of their former life? Why do these symbols matter?
  • Jeanne Darst writes with deep humor that often masks real emotional pain. How does she use humor as a means for navigating her life? Do you think this is a helpful mechanism? Does her humor alter the reader’s response to what is happening to her parents?
  • The book declares that “fiction ruined my family“ and Darst’s father’s obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald seems to indicate that even if you can write “the great American novel,“ you still might have a tragic personal life. Why is F. Scott Fitzgerald so important to Darst’s father? How do the fictions we tell ourselves help or hurt us?
  • Darst doesn’t want to follow in her father’s footsteps as a writer because she’s afraid of the damage it would cause, but mocks her therapist for suggesting she get a “real“ job. Is it necessary to be self–destructive to be an artist? Why do you think this myth persists in our culture?
  • Darst’s parents eventually divorce, but never really end their dysfunctional relationship. Why do they cling to each other? Do you think if they had divorced earlier in life, their lives would have been different?
  • Darst winds up falling into the worst habits of her parents: her mother’s alcoholism and her father’s determination to be a writer. How much agency did she have over these choices? Discuss the role that family heritage plays in your decision making as an adult.
  • Writing ends up being a salvation to Darst. Do you think Darst would have gotten sober without being able to channel her energy into writing? In what way does writing allow her to be a healthy adult and raise a child?
  • Jeanne Darst’s father obtains and then quickly leaves more “normal“ jobs. Why do you think he is so reluctant to have a more conventional career? Why does he persist in being a writer?
  • At the end of the book, Darst is starting her own family and continuing on her career as a writer. How can she keep fiction from ruining her new family?

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