One of the first times I entered what is now my favorite book shop, Rob, the manager, told me to read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. "A memoir? Nah. Not for me," I thought. I still walked out with an amazing book, as I always do, but it took me almost two years to finally read The Glass Castle. I shouldn't have waited one day. I can say without exaggeration that this book has changed me.
The first line: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."
Walls then takes us back to the beginning, to her earliest memory of when she was three years old, and making herself hot dogs. Her mother was painting in the next room, and her father was off somewhere, probably at a bar, leaving Jeannette to fend for herself, standing on a chair by the stove. Her dress caught fire. The six weeks Jeannette had spent in the hospital had been the only time in her childhood that she was clean, clothed, ate three meals a day, and had electricity and someone to look after her.
The Walls parents: Rex, the alcoholic father who could never hold a steady job, fueled his children's creativity when sober, but left them to survive the horrors of his own deceitfulness when he was drunk; and the artist mother who was a bit manic without the aid of alcohol, so the children never knew if they were going to wake up to an able teacher who worked and saved money and occasionally paid bills and put food on the table or the depressed irresponsible woman who doesn't work because it's her time to be taken care of. These two are madly in love...or just simply mad.
The Walls children: Lori, the eldest sister, was the smart one; Brian, the only brother, was the brave one; and Maureen, the baby sister, was the pretty one. Jeannette went without description, as they were never quite sure where she fit in. All of the children were extremely bright and capable. Their parents taught them reading, writing, arithmetic and survival by way of throwing them into the deep-end of life and told to sink or swim. As the children grew up, not being able to count on their parents for basic human needs, they supported and protected one another.
Jeannette Walls takes us through 13 years of her family's life with painful honesty, yet maintaining a graceful and humorous courage. From reading descriptions of this memoir, one would think it would be heavy, emotional and downright depressing, but that's not the case with The Glass Castle. Not at all. This book is beautifully written, and I turned the pages with ease.
In fact, Jeannette compares herself to Francie Nolan, the main character in one of my favorite books of all time, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I found it befitting that she would make this connection, since I felt the same way after reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn as I did when I finished The Glass Castle and they now sit on my shelf side-by-side.
The Walls children not only survived, but prospered. It actually made me wonder if maybe their parents weren't all that mad in teaching their children self-sufficiency. Maybe.
Jeannette Walls's second book, Half Broke Horses, was released October 6, 2009.
For more from Simon and Schuster, visit their Jeannette Walls Author Page.
About This Book:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (January 9, 2006)
(This copy of The Glass Castle came from my own library.)