This is a fictionalized autobiography. I say fictionalized because no-one can remember incidents and conversations from their childhood with the precision and complexity shown in this book, especially conversations between other "grownup" people. Besides that fictional element, this book described quite a remarkable childhood that probably happened much like related.
At times I wanted to strangle the parents who were so obviously neglecting their children yet so stubbornly refusing to admit it. Who so willingly and relentlessly drove themselves into abject poverty and destitution. Who came up with a hundred different reasons why they were in fact exactly where they wanted to be. Why they were actually in control. Why the fact that their children were sometimes forced to root through the garbage at school after lunch break was untroubling. Why things were better this way, all broken and lost and basically living the life of street vagrants.
Walls's parents were pretty much sociopathically incapable of recognizing their failure as parents, as human beings. But here's the thing: they failed so spectacularly interestingly. Their denials were so inventive, so composed of small nuggets of truth and insight, that they at times seemed to be possessed of a rare genius, a precious insight into the human condition that few of us ever are lucky enough to apprehend. This story gave me the same feeling of deep frustration as when one listens to the protestations of innocence from a mother who was caught on camera strangling her child. Who, when shown the video of her crime, still denies that it happened, that she is anything other than the most innocent, caring, wonderful mother on the planet.
Still, my murderous feelings for the parents aside, I found this book extremely well written and engaging. It was at times very humorous, too. I also think that this is Walls's one book, the one she might be remembered for. I don't know how well she would write about something removed from her own childhood. She clearly can write with passion about what she knows about. I just wonder, what else does she know about? Can she ever top this story? It surely is a tough one to follow.
Anyway, somehow Walls manages not to judge her parents directly. That is left to the reader. And it seems pretty clear what the intended "judgement by readership" is. Walls seemed, to me at least, to be saying, "I can't be seen to judge my parents, or seem too bitter, because people just hate that. So I will tell my story in a way that I come away the heroine but that also pretty much guarantees that readers will condemn my parents but not too harshly."
Walls leaves us feeling better about ourselves, feeling wiser and more compassionate, and also feeling the vicarious pleasure of righteous anger at gifted parents who are ultimately failures by their own standards. The father never gets to build the Glass Castle; he instead succumbs to liquor. The mother is hostage in her own marriage and has all the talents and means to provide well for her family, yet in the end succumbs to her inability to function less selfishly, and falls to rooting through rubbish and sleeping in abandoned buildings because, apparently, that is what she is happy doing. So, yes. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book and the stories it contained....Continua
If The Glass Castle were a work of fiction, it would merit comparison with The Grapes of Wrath or other towering sagas about the struggles of poor people. But it is not fiction. It is a memoir, one that will leave the empathetic reader torn between laughing and crying or both.
Jeannette Walls was the second of four children of talented, insightful, but highly dysfunctional parents whose unconventionality renders them to fit in anywhere. The book spans the decades between the opening episode where the author, as a successful writer in New York gazing out the window of a cab on her way from her Park Avenue apartment to an evening gala, spots her mother “rooting through a Dumpster” and the earliest remembered scene where, as a three-year-old, Jeannette burns herself while boiling a hot dog without adult supervision.
Let us begin with a short step outside the text to the 1956 wedding photo of Rose Mary and Rex Wallis. They are young and good-looking. Standing together in a very traditional church sanctuary, they seem to be the epitome of postwar America. He, an Air Force veteran in a white tux and she, a college graduate with a teaching degree and dressed in a white gown and veil, smile at the camera and into a promising future. Prosperity or even a modest degree of stability would elude this couple and the children they bore and loved.
Rex clearly loves his kids, but he’s crazy. He is always on the verge of striking it rich with some invention or enterprise, always investigating some sinister plot or corruption on the part of the government, the unions, Standard Oil, or whomever comes to mind. He seems capable and extremely well read, but he never fails to make a botch of anything he touches. Of course, Rose and the kids are repeatedly disappointed. Rose loves Rex despite his drinking and apparent inability to hold a job. When challenged, she retreats into sunny optimism and cheerful bromides, like “Let’s make the best of it”. But she is capable of clear-sighted deadpans, such as “The only research you are doing is on the liver’s ability to process alcohol.” It takes a lot of growing up before the kids see the reality behind the heroic façade.
The narrative takes us over the years, episode by episode, from a child’s simple, optimistic acceptance of life as her parents lead it to the adult’s struggle to deal with the jarring reality of her parents’ disintegration. As they grow older, Jeannette, her older sister Lori, and her younger siblings Brian and Maureen, adapt to the practical difficulties of being repeatedly uprooted and nonconformance with the expectations of conventional society. Even strokes of luck like inheriting a good house deteriorate into missed opportunities as Rex and Rose are helpless to overcome their self-defeating tendencies.
Walls offers no attempt at psychological diagnosis. But this layman’s guess is that her eloquent recollections will tempt readers with an analytic frame of mind. Well worth reading....Continua
The Glass Castle is a good memoir of a childhood of hardship. It's a wonder the writer, Jeannette Wells survived to write this tale.
This was a truly compelling memoir. I can understand well the blurb about how it will keep you up at night long after the rest of your house has gone to sleep. The Walls family's life took off at go and very rarely settled down after. From mining town to desert, eating well to near starvation, periods of bliss to absolute chaos, there was never a dull moment, and rarely any certainty. But this was a family that stuck together. And even after the kids had given up on their parents, they still stuck with each other. I would definitely classify this as one that belongs on the Everyone Must Read list. Because this is one family who encompasses the best and worst of the American Dream, and it's good to take a break from the insanity that is now to see what insanity was then....Continua
Recommended by the lady at the check-out counter at Border's.<br />A totally moving, compelling & hauntingly beautiful story! Heartbreaking too but one of the most sensitive memoirs I remember reading.