Thursday, April 22, 2010

My take on: The Glass Castle

After being disappointed by another memoir, which shall remain nameless, I was intrigued by the Glass Castle. Within the first two chapters, Jeannette Walls pulls you into her dysfunctional world.

One of Jeannette Walls’ first memories was boiling hot dogs on the stove, at the tender age of three. Before she knew it, Jeannette was in the hospital suffering from burns to her right side. Even then a young Jeannette had to learn to be resilient. Walls and her three siblings lived as nomads under the guise of their complicated parents Rose Mary and Rex. Rose Mary Walls preferred to be a free spirit, choosing to explore her artistic side sometimes at the expense of her starving children. Rex Walls was a dreamer who did all he could to get his children to live as fearless as he did. It worked when they were young, Jeannette was his biggest defender. He filled his children’s heads with dreams of finding gold that would make the family rich. But alcohol would quickly change Rex Walls from a charismatic dreamer to a fall down drunk. As Jeannette, Lori, Brian and Maureen got older they learned to rely on each other. Brian and Jeannette often teamed together to combat the neighborhood bullies. When food was scarce the Walls children got creative. From eating margarine to pulling half-eaten food from the garbage. On the rare occasions their parents were employed money was still hard to come by. Rex would rather donate money to the local bar or toss money at an unattainable dream – building the Glass Castle, a grand home he hoped his family would one day live in. Rose Mary would waste money on art supplies and books. All the while the Walls children went to school hungry in dirty clothes.

After zigzagging across the country from the deserts of California, to the deserts of Phoenix and Battle Mountain, Nevada the Walls finally settled to the house on Little Hobart street in Welch, West Virginia. It’s here where the Walls children start building their own dreams. Dreams of moving to New York and starting anew. Rex Walls did his best to sabotage those dreams, including stealing their money, but his children fought hard and made lives for themselves. Jeannette became a successful journalist, Brian a cop and Lori an artist. Maureen struggled but ultimately broke free of her parents.

For months I saw this book in the display case at Borders. I finally read the book jacket and thought this is worth a try. Generally, I avoided memoirs because I’ve become so engrained in reading fiction. But, The Glass Castle is one of those books that truly makes you appreciate what you have. When Rex Walls steals money from his children to prevent them from leaving, I got angry at a person I didn't know. I couldn't fathom how a parent would intentionally sabotage his own children. There is such an ease to Jeannette Walls' writing. You don’t feel like this is something she made up, you can feel her pain and embarrassment as she went through life.

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