Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Book Report

I just finished reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A couple of attorneys in my firm recommended it to me saying it was one of their favorite books. The book club also read it a few months back but it was in the middle of my wedding planning so I've only just now gotten around to reading it.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover.
The story was very compelling for me. At times you feel like you want to jump through the pages and strangle these parents for being so negligent but at the same time, you develop compassion for them. I read a couple of chapters to Jericho. One described living in the mountains of West Virginia in a 3-room shack with no heat source and the other was about the narrator finding food for herself when there wasn't a morsel of food in their home. I asked Jericho what he thought and he said, "Why would you read that book? It's so sad." Then I read him a chapter about one Christmas when the narrator was a child and they lived in the dessert. Her parents never had money for presents so her father took each of the kids outside that night, one by one, and let them pick out a star as their present. It is bittersweet. That's the best way I can describe the book.

You feel anger and pity for the parents. You feel excitement for the children and for their ambitions and maturity. And also feel somewhat introspective of your own life and whether or not you'd have the gumption and perseverance to succeed if raised in such conditions. Jericho thinks we should read this book to our children when they're young to give them a proper perspective on life. Probably not a bad idea.

Overall, the book is well written. I'm not much of a memoir person but Walls is a great storyteller. It was a quick read without being overly simple. She illustrates her family members extremely well, especially her bohemian parents. You feel compelled to get to the end because all along you've been silently pleading that, after all the hardship, somewhere there is a happy ending.


  1. I'm about 3/4 through the book and I find myself agreeing a lot with the mom's philosophy on life, not that I ever considered a life like that to raise children! Guess it's the hippy in me from my other life. Not everything though, like her reaction to that perv Larry (was that his name?), the uncle. I would have reacted pretty violently to that. Good thing you have a well grounded dad to keep me straight:)

  2. ...and I would have never put a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor...


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