The Writer's Wife
Literary star falls through the earth, lands in Sun Valley
Photography: Courtesy of Danielle Trussoni
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Danielle Trussoni was six when she decided to read her mother’s collection of Danielle Steel books. (The other choice was a set of encyclopedias.) Soon after, she decided she would be a writer, too. After all, she reasoned, she was also named Danielle.
And Danielle Trussoni did grow up to be a writer, overcoming an amazingly dysfunctional childhood and youth. And she far outshone the other Danielle with her first book. Her work, Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir, was critically acclaimed and was honored among The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2006.
Her wrenching memoir details her experience growing up in Wisconsin with an alcoholic father, who was seriously damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam War. After his return to Wisconsin, he remained preoccupied with Vietnam, kept a skull and pictures of the dead enemy and told dreadful stories, usually on his way to being drunk. Eventually, he would be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but too late to make him a kinder human. By then he was dying of cancer, in part due to exposure to Agent Orange.
As a husband, he was both unfaithful and unkind. As a father, he was hard, and insisted on hardness from his children. While gutting a doe he has shot in nearby woods, he notes she has milk and Danielle expresses concern about what will happen to her fawn. Her father’s dismissive reply: “If it’s strong, it will learn to feed itself.”
When her parents divorced and her mother brought in a new man, Danielle chose to move in with her father, whom she adored despite his quirks. To say she was in his care assumes too much. . . she was his sidekick . . . sitting with him for hours at his favorite bar, riding in his truck as he evaded law officers trying to nail him for drunk driving once more, hearing his intimate moments with woman after woman he brought home. That she grew up skipping school, almost entirely, and shoplifting and drinking and doing drugs seems a given. That she made it out of the mess, went to college and then won a scholarship to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ program is the surprise.
While at the University of Wisconsin, Danielle Trussoni took a course on Vietnam and the germ of her story began. To complete her understanding of the man she loved and sometimes hated, Trussoni, then 24, went to Vietnam where her father had served as a “tunnel rat,” cleaning out the booby-trapped tunnel systems where North Vietnamese soldiers had hidden.
By reading interviews after her book was published, we learn how the wild child Danielle became an acclaimed writer, a wife and mother, a teacher of writing, a cheerful and charming presence on various websites, a wit. She was saved and shaped by books, she acknowledges. It was a passion she was able to indulge by working for or hanging out with booksellers who let her read.
Now you may have a chance to see her in the Valley’s book stores, as she spends the summer as writer-in-residence in the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ program. She’ll live upstairs in the old Ezra Pound House in Hailey. (As part of the program, she will teach a workshop in memoir writing June 11 to 15 and will read from her work June 12 at the Center.)
Though she has traveled the world, Trussoni, now 33, has not been to Sun Valley before. And while it’s a wonderful summer idyll for tourists and residents, she plans to leave her husband and two young children back East so that she can get some serious work done. She is married to the Bulgarian writer, Nikolai Grozni, whom she met while at Iowa. While she has worked on her memoir, he has already been a celebrated writer in Europe and up until the publication of her book, she says, she was “the writer’s wife.” Now she’s famous, too, and she anticipates he’ll earn major attention in the U.S. with his first English-language book due soon. >>>