The GlassCastle by Jeannette Walls was an... interesting read. I have to say it was one of my quickest reads as well. I read it on vacation in about two days. So, it was required summer reading, I'm still reviewing it. :P
Before any actual text begins, a picture appears of Rex and Rose Mary Walls. A seemingly happy, care-free, newlywed couple smiles at you from the page, yet that's definitely not the impression we get from them later on. That said, this picture is kind of eerie, especially at what their lives actually turn out to be like. Safe to say, nothing like that picture may foreshadow.
The "memoir" starts out with an adult Jeannette getting inside a taxi cab on her way to a party. She glances out the window to see a homeless woman picking through trash in a dumpster. After more careful observation, Jeannette realizes that she knows this woman: it's her mother. Jeannette slouches down in the taxi cab seat, praying that her mom doesn't see her and shout out her name; embarrass her. She's torn between wanting to disappear to wanting to help, feeling selfish that she's living in in luxury while her own mother is living in the slums.
The memoir quickly flashes back to Jeannette at a very young age, and her first memory of being burnt on a stove while cooking hot-dogs. Something about this "memory" irritated me, but I'll get to that later on in the review. Jeannette's mother, Rose, is practically forced by her neighbor to go to a hospital. Hesitantly, she does. This first memory sets the zany and grotesque vibe of the rest of the book. Jeannette and her siblings are often getting into serious peril as their parents shrug it off, claiming that it's not as bad as they think. Trust me, it's as bad as you think. And it only gets worse.
Jeannette's father, Rex, is soon introduced, swearing at the nurses. Great first impression, huh? That said, you get a sense of a strong connection between him and Jeannette. Jeannette's older sister, Lori, and younger brother, Brian are there with Rex and Rose. Brian is a typical toddler, while Lori seems mature for her young age. You'll get to know more sides to their personality as the book progresses. A particularly humorous, yet disgusting incident occurs between Brian, Lori, and Erma, their grandmother, near the middle of the book. Watch out for that. I didn't know whether I wanted to laugh, or close the book immedietly. I kind of did both.
The only thing that really irritates me about Jeannette Walls' memoir is her extremely odd, vivid recollection of her years as early as age two. We are given "exact" dialogue from the stove-burning incident, despite her very, very young age. It's obviously understandable and less abnormal at an older age, but for someone that young, it's a little too far-fetched.
Other than that minor flack, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good story, non-fiction or not. Just keep in mind that this is not a heart-warming tale of a blissful childhood, but rather a dark view on a very dysfunctional family.
It is hard to believe that in this day and age educated people in the US still live in poverty the way Jeannette did as a child. Reasons for this become apparent in the book. The story is told with a lot of humor, without rancour and is at times almost too much to believe. This book was a quick read and worthwhile read.
Well written and realistic, but...
Ms. Walls writes a matter-of-fact memoir of a childhood that proves the maxim that truth truly is stranger than fiction. However, even though the writing was clear and lucid, I could hardly get through this book. It is beyond me how two such selfish, narcissistic losers (her parents) raised kids who turned out as well as they did. I have dealt with alcoholism before, and Rex Walls was a textbook alcoholic with a Jekyll & Hyde personality. Rose Mary was no better; she was just the enabler, & certainly had mental and/or emotional problems of her own. All credit to the Walls kids for surviving in the shadow of two of the most self-absorbed people I have ever read about.
What a remarkable tale of resiliency and resourcefulness! How one girl escaped from a bizarre and difficult childhood, the likes of which I can scarcely imagine. More than escape, however, Ms. Walls came away from her West Virginia upbringing with a strong sense of the love she received from her strange but intelligent parents, and an amazing home-schooling obtained in shacks, cars, the desert Southwest, and the hills of Appalachia. This book is also an eye-opening story about poverty and homelessness as a choice based on deeply held values, and, as a result, I will view the men and women standing in line at the Salvation Army Center in an entirely new light.
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.