The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Published by Scribner on January 17, 2006
Genres: [Adult] Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir
5 Stars, Completed February 27, 2015
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I’m not sure where to start. I recently made a new friend this last year, and she recommended me this book. After finally picking it up, I understood why it had stellar reviews and was on the The New York Times bestseller for a good 2 years.
The Glass Castle is a memoir written by former MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Wells, which narrates her unconventional upbringing and leads up to her success as a writer. In ways the book was simple and complex. Walls begins her story by describing one evening when she sees her homeless mother picking trash on the streets while she is on her way to a fancy party. When she sees her mother begin to look up towards her direction, she quickly bends down in her seat, in shame, hoping that should would pass unrecognized. Later she meets with her mom at a restaurant, slightly embarrassed by her mother’s appearance, and asks her mother how she should disclose about her family to her friends and colleagues. And her mother replies, “Just tell the truth, that’s simple enough.”
Then Walls begins to unfold her childhood story by explaining how her family would do the “skedaddle” from place to place when her parents couldn’t afford to keep up the bills or when a controversy prompted them to move. For a third of the book, Walls divulges her life on the west coast, where she slept in the desert gazing upon the stars, dealt with bullies and boys such as Billy Deel, and indulged in her father’s plans and dreams of building the glass castle. During this phase of her life the readers see the raw innocence in Walls with her loyalty and faith towards her father and the ignorance of emotions between men and women. But she begins to grow up when she learns more about sexuality with Billy Deel’s advances and the women at the Green Lantern, sees her father’s flaws and weaknesses clearly during drinking spells, and recognizes how emotionally detached her mother is despite being the excitement addict.
For the next good chunk of the book, Walls tells of her time in Welch, West Virginia, a town that simply seemed to be going downhill and falling apart. Living with her father’s mother, Erma, she starts to understand how her father wild character evolved and why he fell into alcoholism. As if the town plagued the feelings of its inhabitants, here is where her family starts falling apart, and she begins to feel disillusioned with her father as she realizes his imagination and dreams of the glass castle impossible.
Determined to live a different life from their parents, the Walls children one by one move to New York in hopes of finding a better lifestyle. Walls, when she arrives, is surprised by the opportunities the city offers, and soon takes up jobs and applies to college. She begins to feel that she has found her place and enjoys the busyness, class, and luxury her parents lacked. In New York, Walls graduates from an ivy league, lands a job as a journalist, meets and networks with other accomplished individuals, marries a wealthy and good man, and lives life in grandeur. Later, when her parents decide to move to New York to be closer to their kids, Walls often feels ashamed of her parents poverty but also acquires a guilty conscience and need to take care of them. But her parents refuse her help, and her mother even questions whether Walls is living with right Wallses values as part of the rich and established. Soon, Walls begins questioning it herself. And the book is left open-ended to let the readers interpret what values the Walls family lived for and cherished the most.
So to recap, her life was anything but simple. Growing up, Jeannette Walls worshipped her father and had faith in him at times when the rest did not. He was a intelligent man, well-read in the math and sciences, and taught his children geology and physics when he could. But he was also a raging alcoholic that was often violent when drunk. Her mother had an addiction to art, literature, and, the most dangerous, excitement. She was certified teacher that seldom taught because she believed art was her true profession and calling. Both parents were smart and capable but didn’t work or keep stable jobs even when their family struggled in poverty. Instead, for most of Wallses life, they chose to live as homeless nomads, addicted to adventure, and believed in the beauty of struggle. So, Rex and Rose Mary Walls were definitely not the ideal, conventional parents. The Walls children took care of themselves (such as cooking hot dogs at the age of three) and took the initiative as each others guardians. So, I bet most readers would argue that the parents were mentally ill to choose to live the lives they did, and bring preventable hardships and burdens upon their children. Yes, I would say they were neglectful parents, and I would often wonder why such parents would have any children, let alone four kids. But in their own ways they disciplined the Walls children by encouraging their kids to indulge in the art of imagination and to live life fearlessly, and taught them the value of education and respect for others. And I believe the Walls children succeeded because of their upbringing. They grew to accept their parents’ weaknesses, and found a way to escape from living like their parents. In ways their harsh and difficult childhood truly made them stronger as how their parents predicted. Of course, I wouldn’t agree with this parenting style, but Rex and Rose Mary Walls did indeed love their children in their own way and, thankfully, they all turned out okay.
And my last note. One of the best things about this book was the writing. Walls definitely showcases her skills as a writer in this memoir. Her style is simple yet detailed at the same time. Even though it’s written through her narrative, in first person, she often lets the reader interpret the event by simply displaying the facts and events of her life. This element of not overwriting or cluttering her book with her thoughts, makes this read an exceptional page turner any reader would enjoy.