“Fiction Ruined My Family” by Jeanne Darst (2011) – 303 pages
Here is a humorous memoir of a family where the father is an aspiring novelist. He received a lot of encouragement at a young age, and it went straight to his head. Soon he quits his job in St. Louis to write his novel, and after a couple of years he moves to New York with his wife and three daughters to live in a literary community This memoir is written by one of his daughters, Jeanne Darst. As she writes, she found herself “living on a farm, which I would quickly discover had more New Yorker writers on it than cows and chickens.” As a child, she believed that “things aren’t going that great now, but it’s all about to change, drastically, because Dad’s gonna sell this novel…”
After a few years, the first novel is ready. The publishers look it over, and although they all praise it highly none of them decide to publish it. By now even though the family was formerly part of the St’ Louis aristocracy, they can keep barely afloat financially. The father starts his next novel.
“Writers talk a lot about how tough they have it – what with the excessive drinking and three-hour workday and philandering and constantly borrowing money from people they’re so much better than. But what about the people married to writers? Their kids? Their friends? Their labradoodles? What happens to them? I’ll tell you what happens to them.”
The mother has problems with depression and alcohol. The daughters run free; Jeanne has her own problems with alcohol in high school. After a few years no one is sure if the father is still writing anything or not. “My Dad doesn’t have an iota of the depressive in him. He just depresses other people.” Jeanne’s father must be a kind person to allow her to publish many of these lines, But it is these lines that make this memoir a success.
One gets the sense that “Fiction Ruined My Family” is a story that would hurt too much if we weren’t laughing. In time the father and mother divorce but later they live together for long periods of time. As Jeanne Darst graduates from high school and goes to college, she has problems with alcohol herself, and she wants to be a writer like her father.
“For a long time I was worried about becoming my father. Then I was worried about becoming my mother. Now I was worried about becoming myself.”
“Ultimately, I sobered up and began actually writing instead of just talking about it, ever so narrowly avoiding repeating the exact—and I mean exact—mistakes of my mother and father. I became very much like them without becoming exactly like them. This was possible, I believe, through no moral superiority of mine and certainly no more talent than my father, but through the odd fortune of being able to see the truth and, having done that, use it to move forward. I have managed to become an artist and not lose my mind or cause others to lose theirs. I work in stories but I live in reality. Or at least, that the tale I tell myself now.”
The previous lines are about as serious as “Fiction Ruined My Family” gets. This memoir is full of wisecracks and funny stories about her family.